The Mayo senior hurlers get their championship season under way tomorrow afternoon in Ballina, when they take on Kildare in the first round of the Christy Ring Cup. After their success in last year's Nicky Rackard Cup and gaining promotion back up to the second tier of the hurling championship, Mayo will be looking to lay down a marker in this year's competition, and tomorrow will be a serious test of their abilities against a Lilywhite outfit that just missed out on the division 2A league final by virtue of a head-to-head result against Antrim. They won three of their five games against Armagh, Westmeath, and London, along with drawing with Carlow and a narrow two point loss to Antrim.
For Mayo the league was not as good, they lost four games on the spin before seeing off Roscommon twice in the space of a week to maintain their place in division 2B for next year, things could have been different but for a few small things, Mayo's Cathal Freeman told the Mayo Advertiser this week.
Moving on from the league form
"It didn't go to plan, it was a very up and down league to a certain extent, the first two games we had against Derry and Wicklow, we played quite well and could have easily won both of them except for a few mistakes. Again the obvious retort to that is that the scoreline doesn't lie at the end of the day, which is true. But if we had certain small things go a bit differently in those two games we would have won our first two and the league could have taken on a whole different slant. But having said that we didn't win those games and it came down to the games against Roscommon. I thought we were very good against Roscommon and we showed huge battling qualities which was the hallmark of this team over the last few years and we're delighted to manage to get over the hump and beat them, it set us up well and gave us a boost."
Since then Mayo have got their teeth into a few challenge games and welcomed back some familiar faces to the set up, which Freeman is delighted to see. "We've had a number of challenge games since the league and a couple of lads coming back from injury which has been great, and the added boost of getting Keith Higgins and Fergal Boland back from the footballers, they are two of our best hurlers - no matter how many games they play in a given year and the level of professionalism and athletes has added to the competition in the squad, and the top quality guys that they are too, it's great to have them."
As for the Kildare challenge, Freeman is under no illusions that it is not going to be tough, but he is confident Mayo can show what they have against them. "They are a fantastic team, they are hugely athletic, and the one thing that would have always struck me about them is the height of them, they are a physically imposing team. But with us it doesn't change no matter what happens, if we go out and we have the same effort and energy, that real fight, real hunger, to do whatever is necessary, our hurling will come out through that. It's the days that we go out and we're not on top of the ground, giving it everything, it's those days that we get some rude hidings and don't do ourselves justice, but the days we do go out and give it everything we're a match for anyone. We may not always win, but we'll always be competitive and we have been with Kildare over the past number of years, and if we do our stuff on Saturday, we'll be competitive and that's all you can ask. If you're competitive that's the number one thing."
Small margins make big differences
The smallest of mistakes can be costly in hurling and making sure that they are kept to a minimum is something that Mayo will have to do tomorrow afternoon. "It's such a game of fine margins, the difference between hurling and football, one of them is that level of sharpness, quickness, your touch, all of those things are happening multiple times in a given minute in any given game, and the culmative effect of being slightly off in any of those is massive. It doesn't translate as much into football, where the ball isn't going to go from one end of the field to the other in the blink of an eye and be in the back of the net, if someone takes the wrong touch or moves the wrong way. If you're not on the money you can be found out, no matter who you are or who you're playing against."
Maintaining their place in the Christy Ring Cup for next year is the first aim for Mayo this year, and it is a level they believe they belong at, the Tooreen man told us. "It would be a huge blow to us if we did end up in the Rackard again, and that's no disrespect to the teams in the Rackard, as we saw last year, we'd no easy game in it. We had some huge battles against some very good teams, but we do see ourselves as a Christy Ring Cup team, and we feel that we have the capacity to compete at this level, because we want to prove ourselves and keep getting better. Whether we win or lose you can't really say, but you can control your effort, you can control what you put into it, and that's what we are aiming to do, that includes your commitment inside and outside the games in what you do.
Mayo face Kildare tomorrow afternoon at 3pm in James Stephens' Park, Ballina.