It is quite possible that tomorrow afternoon some of the Mayo faithful who make the long trip to the Carrickmore for their Nicky Rackard Cup opener and take a seat in the stand in the ground will have a feeling of déjà vu, because the ground is the new home of the old Nally Stand that was once a fixture of Croke Park before the GAA headquarters was completely redeveloped. The stand of course also has plenty of Mayo connections, being named after Balla native Patrick William Nally.
Getting back to the serious business, this is a big game for JP Coen's men as they look to escape the clutches of the third tier of hurling at the first time of asking. Mayo were relegated out of the Christy Ring Cup last year, losing to local rivals Roscommon in a promotion/relegation play-off after Roscommon won this competition last year in Croke Park.
After blitzing their way through the opening three rounds of the league with impressive wins at home to Donegal, and on the road to what looked like the two toughest encounters on paper against Meath and Down, the wheels came off the wagon in their last two games, at home to Wicklow and away to Armagh, that saw their hopes of making a league final slip from their grasps. So a win tomorrow in Carrickmore is essential for Mayo to get their championship season off to a positive start. Coen will be hoping that Keith Higgins is available for selection, the Ballyhaunis man lined out in a few games in the league but missed out on the conclusion of that campaign after picking up a injury that ruled him out of both football and hurling for a period.
But it is not all about Higgins, there have been plenty of other players who have stepped up to the plate for Mayo during their league run in impressive style, especially in those early league games. Kenny Feeney has been playing very well while Eoghan Collins, Brian Hunt, Ciaran Charlton, and Cathal Freeman are all good hurlers. The addition of the McManus brothers from Dublin has been a big boost for Mayo this year, with Ger McManus impressive in the defence and Joe adding some zest in attack.
This is a competition that Mayo should seriously have a shout of winning, with Armagh and Donegal the only other sides that are operating in the same division, with Monaghan, Tyrone, Longford, Fingal all hurling at a lower league level. Of course if Mayo do come up short they still have another chance in the losers' round of the competition, but that is something that Coen and his charges will not even be contemplating heading into tomorrow's game.