With the greatest respect to the pre-season provincial leagues, they are really what they are, challenge matches with large attendances. They are a means to an end, to prepare you for the competitions that matter, the National league and the championship. They are to build up fitness, improve your football skills, and try to unearth a player or two that might make a difference in bigger more important games. Unlike some folk out there, Mayo’s defeat by Roscommon in the final group game in the FBD league does not bother me in the slightest. After all Mayo, like most, were experimenting and playing with a very under strength team. There are two matters that do concern me however; firstly the delay in appointing Stephen Rochford means Mayo are a full month behind the other counties in terms of work done, and secondly the number of players Mayo have out injured for the start of the league.
I know Stephen Rochford wanted to have started work with his management team in November but ended up having his first get together in the middle of December, leaving him behind in terms of his team’s preparations. This will not affect the fitness of the established players who now live their lives like elite athletes, and I know from Tom Parsons (a perfect example ) that he never stopped training and pushing himself to make himself a better player, this would be the same for Lee Keegan, Donie Vaughan, Keith Higgins, and all those who have been involved for that last few years, the concern is for the new recruits who would not have experienced the intense training required to play at the elite level. It will not be long until they catch up but they may be found wanting for the earlier rounds of the league.
The Mayo injury list can only be described as a crisis with Keith Higgins and Kevin Keane now added to the list after picking up knocks against Roscommon in the final FBD game. Add to that the missing Castlebar Mitchels players and you really are struggling to put a strong squad together. Stephen Rochford will have no choice but to offer debuts to players in Cork and again against Dublin in round two. David Kenny and Conor Loftus will probably have to step up to fill the boots of some very notable absentees while Brendan Harrison will want a more productive year than he had in 2015. On a positive note Evan Regan is back in the picture, we saw a glimpse of his capabilities in the first round of the league last year in Killarney.
As hard a start as you could get
There is no doubt taking the above points into consideration survival in division one has to be the priority. Cork are raring to go under a new management set up and are in confident form after winning the McGrath cup last weekend, so they will be very difficult to beat this Sunday. If ever there is a good time to play Dublin then it is in round one or two of the league. Let’s not forget the Dubs season started when they came to Castlebar last March and put in a master class, they have not lost a game since (O’Byrne cup excluded ). The two week break after the Dublin game should hopefully see some of the artillery returning for the trip to Ballybofey against Donegal. I feel if Mayo can get a win or a win and a draw out of the first five rounds it will leave us in a very healthy position for survival, given all the injured players return for the final two rounds. Round six against Roscommon in Hyde Park and the final round against Down at home are two very viable chances of picking up points if needed. Of course I would prefer if the team had guaranteed their safety before that trip to the Hyde. I cannot wait for the league to kick off again.
Holly-Carra and Ardnaree do the business
What a brilliant weekend it was for Mayo clubs last weekend with Hollymount-Carramore qualifying for the All-Ireland Intermediate final and Ardnaree qualifying for the junior final, both finals to be played in Croke Park on Saturday week, February 6, the same day Mayo are playing Dublin in Castlebar so if any of you have friends with helicopters I would appreciate passing on their contact details. If you have not seen it already, take a look on YouTube at Darren Coen’s pointed sideline kick in his team’s semi final win against Loughinisland. It is worth it despite the cameraman not having Coen in the shot. I must ask him when I see him if he meant it. Both teams are competing against Kerry opposition who are always very strong at club level but as the saying goes, if you’re not in it, you can’t win it. It should be a great day out at HQ for both Mayo clubs.
For more build up to the action have a listen to the new Advertiser.ie GAA podcast where John Casey and Colm Gannon cast their eye over the upcoming league campaign and what lies in store for Mayo, you can find it under the podcast tab on www.advertiser.ie/mayo and on Soundcloud and subscribe on iTunes.