Mayo's 2017 championship gets under way on Sunday in Elverys MacHale Park against rank outsiders and recent conquerors of New York, Sligo. Niall Carew's men find themselves priced at 15/2 to win the game while, Stephen Rochford's charges are an unbackable 1/14 on. If you are silly enough to bet on a draw, it's available at 18/1. The handicap betting suggests that Mayo should win the game by around nine points. Sligo do have the advantage of having a game under their belts, albeit an energy sapping trip to the Big Apple, which they ended up winning comfortably. They did stay behind in New York for a few days training and returned to Ireland the Thursday after their game in Gaelic Park. It does take a few days to get over the jet lag so it is not ideal preparation for such a big game,
The first round of the championship is always exciting for so many different reasons, for players and supporters alike, but for me the team selection for the first match it what excites me the most. Against Sligo on Sunday Mayo will not have to play a horses for courses team and execute match ups with precision as they would against the better teams in the country, so Sunday's selection will give us a clear idea of who Stephen Rochford thinks are his best 15. Injured players exempt of course.
Holding on to that precious starting berth
Amazingly, only nine players started last Septembers drawn All-Ireland final that started in the first round in Ruislip against London, which is quite staggering to have a six player turnaround from your first championship game to your last. The simple lesson here is that over the course of the championship form dips in some individuals and improves in others, and you really want your best 15 in place for August Bank Holiday weekend.
If you are not picked to start on Sunday then you have some work to do to get into the manager's mind for the game thereafter because, as they say, possession is nine tenths of the law, and the guy with the jersey is in a position to create his own destiny or downfall as the case might be. The last time Mayo came up against Sligo was in the Connacht final in Hyde Park in 2015 which was a humiliating affair for them and one they are are embarrassed by and certainly still reeling from. Mayo won that game by 6-25 to 2-11. Aidan O'Shea wreaked havoc on the edge of the square that day scoring 3-04 giving Sligo full-back Kevin McDonnell a real baptism of fire. It must be remembered however that David Clarke gave a nine out of 10 performance in the Mayo goal the same day so the scoreline was somewhat flattering from a Mayo view point. I don't expect the same margin of victory this time around as I’m sure Neil Carew's team will play a far more cagey game plan to stay in the match for as long as possible and see what happens thereafter. Mayo will win this game no question, by how much entirely depends on the attitude.
Maybe Stephen Rochford will not want to show his full hand for an impending semi-final against Galway. The positioning of Aidan O'Shea will be intriguing to say the least and seems to be the single biggest talking point of the team selection. It is the big conundrum facing the management to try to get the best out of him. He was very influential in the middle of the field when introduced in the second half against Donegal in our final league game and single handedly turned the tide in Mayo's favour, but midfield does not constitute Mayo's main problem. Mayo have to get the balance right between a tight and non porous defence combined with a legitimate attacking threat that can win the big games, so therefore O'Shea will probably be given a more advanced role.
Border brothers and sisters
As a Charlestownion, Sligo are the one team you just cannot lose to, there are serious bragging rights at stake and there will be a queue of Sligo folk outside our shop on Monday morning if there is a shock result. It's the same for Tom Parsons or possibly even worse as he resides in the Sligo part of the town, I fully expect him to have a good game as a result. I have been inundated with opinions all week from our Sligo supporters on how the game will go, ranging from a Sligo annihilation to Sligo creating a huge upset. One notable Sligo supporter suggested Mayo are in a bit of turmoil and Stephen Rochford has hit the panic button looking for players to return to his panel. He is very bullish about Sligo’s chances.
Some in Galway didn't cover themselves in glory trying to generate a bit of revenue advertising a pre match lunch before the Galway-Mayo semi final on June 11. It's somewhat of an insult to Sligo in presuming Mayo are going to turn them over before a ball is kicked, or maybe it's a subtle way of giving the Yeats County some motivation before Sunday's game. Who knows?