And so it begins. With the greatest respect to the FBD league, Mayo's season kicks off in earnest with a home tie against Monaghan in MacHale Park tomorrow evening. I will let someone else tell Andy Moran about the insignificance of the FBD league. Mayo's evergreen full forward was full of passion for the trip to Kiltoom to face Roscommon in the final FBD group game, scoring two late goals to ultimately decide the contest and rub salt to the wounds of the Rossies' who had given him plenty of stick while he was on the sideline.
I am sure Stephen Rochford and co have set themselves realistic goals for this year's National League. Survival in the division is an absolute necessity, while trying to form a style of play that will get Mayo over the line in a big game will be on the agenda. With the obvious mileage on certain players, whom I am delighted have all decided to give it one more crack, unearthing a player or two that will make a difference on big match days is pretty crucial to the cause. You have to make a difference in the league if you want to be considered for the third Sunday in September, or indeed any championship panel. Playing in division one will ensure any newcomers will be pitted against the best in the country which will ultimately give the management a fair idea of their future potential.
Last year Mayo got the balance fairly right in the league, after a poor start and a not so convincing win in the final round against Down they achieved their ultimate goal of surviving in division one and being reasonably fresh for the Championship (Galway game apart ). Compare that to Roscommon who were flying in the league, getting to a semi-final, but ended up having a very forgettable championship losing to Clare in a qualifier after getting trounced by Galway in the Connacht final replay. The bigger the panel you have the more likely you are to get the balance right. No team playing outside of division one will win Sam Maguire this year, that is the importance of being at the top table. Donegal did get to a final three years ago from division two but were overrun by a rampant Kerry in that final, and we know so well were only two years on from winning the whole thing themselves.
Let's go and win this thing
Dublin are again the standard bearers, going for their fifth league title in a row so do not let anyone fool us into thinking a good league run could jeopardise our championship chances. For that reason I think Mayo should give the league a proper crack in 2017. Making the final will also get the team an extra game on the hallowed turf of Croke Park. Winning home games is of absolute importance, meaning tomorrow's clash against Monaghan will give us a fairly good idea about how this year's competition is perceived within the camp. Lose against Monaghan and face an uphill battle. After Monaghan is an away trip to the Kingdom. If ever there is a good time to play Kerry then February is that time, especially as their Dr Crokes contingent are club tied so I would be fairly confident of an away win there. Two wins should set us up nicely for a crack at making the top two and a final spot.
I am looking forward to see how Fergal Boland copes with senior inter county football week in week out. He has given plenty of indication that he is capable, I also hope Conor Loftus stays injury free as I feel he could have a real impact in 2017 for the Mayo senior team. I will never forget his goal in last year's u21 final. With Aidan O'Shea and Brendan Harrison injured, and the unavailability of player of the year Lee Keegan and Kevin Keane for a number of games because of an impending All-Ireland club final, opportunities will open for fringe players, my advice, seize that opportunity. I cannot wait for it all to throw in again.
Westport and Louisburgh did us proud
It was mixed emotions in Ennis last Sunday for Louisburgh and Westport. Louisburgh getting well beaten, despite being seven points up early on, by a quality team in Glenbeigh-Glencar who really could be well above junior standard, and having Kerry star Darren O'Sullivan as their main man shows their level. O'Sullivan scored an unreal goal in that game, I suggest you look for it on social media.
You have to give serious credit to Westport who qualified for their first All-Ireland final. Westport were 4/1 rank outsiders while their Kerry opponents Kenmare were an unbackable 1/5. It looked like the game was gone from them in normal time but they hung in and got awarded a somewhat dubious penalty late on to send the game into extra time. They would have been bitterly disappointed had they not got that goal as they squandered some glorious chances beforehand. Their fitness levels on a heavy pitch were testament to the work they have put in and the scenes at the end were of pure joy and realisation they have a final to look forward to in Croke Park. Well done to them.