NFL lights up the spring this weekend

It has been a wonderful change over the past few mornings to look out from around 7.20am on and see some brightness and light to help you scoff down the porridge, toast and tea before dashing out the door for work. And the really noticeable stretch in the evenings definitely adds a pep to your step as you hit the training fields or head for a good jaunty walk or jog.

With winter's darkness practically in our rear-view mirror and next Sunday heralding the start of spring, it is time for us to start checking out the new faces on the county panels and see if all the old stagers are back in the fold and if they are carrying any excess baggage around the midriff and buttocks. Are the young guns up to the job in hand and is there another year or two in the auld lads, those are the questions that will be up for debate over the coming few weeks.

And thankfully there are some top games on this weekend to get the show on the road and the Western teams in division one will all be very keen to try and get some points on the board as it promises to be an extremely competitive league division with precious little wriggle room for any team that falters early doors.

Mayo manager John O'Mahony will be hopeful that his charges can cast off the poor form they showed in the FBD when they face Derry at home this Sunday.

The Mayo management team will have all their college players back available for county selection and that strengthens their hand considerably with the likes of Ger Cafferkey around to boost the full-back line and Tom Cunniffe back to mop up around the half-backs.

Youthful college players who are full of running make all the difference at this time of year, and enthusiasm can be half the battle in tight league games when the will-to-win can be just, if not more, important than skill and style.

On the negative side for the green and red supporters, Conor Mortimer who is recovering from surgery on a badly broken nose is rated as highly doubtful. And while the Shrule-Glencorrib corner-forward is not everyone's cup of tea, it has to be acknowledged that he has been Mayo's top scorer in five of the last seven league campaigns and his absence through injury would deprive the side of a consistent scoring threat in the full-forward line.

Mayo will be very keen to try and get a win under their belts and two points in the swag bag to avoid getting dragged into the relegation quagmire in late March and early April.

Unless a team wins its home fixtures, they will be in trouble in jig-time. And with Mayo on the road to the likes of Kerry and Donegal they must be ruthless at home, as no team can afford to be going to the likes of Ballybofey or Tralee in desperate need of points.

Sunday will be tough though as Derry are the current league champions and with a new manager – Damien Cassidy – revving them on they will be very difficult to turn over.

They beat Kerry in last year's league final and with players like Paddy Bradley, Fergal Doherty, Enda Muldoon, Mark Lynch, and Niall McCusker they won't fear Mayo. With Donegal who just won the McKenna Cup away in two weeks time this is a big game for Mayo and it will be interesting to see if they can rise to the challenge.

In Mullingar, Westmeath entertain a vibrant Galway side who will have improved a lot from their extra time against Roscommon in the FBD final win last weekend. That game proved once again that the scoring unit is overly dependent on Michael Meehan for scoring inspiration.

Westmeath have a lot of injuries and that allied to the fitness and team work that Galway should have improved on during their FBD campaign should see Liam Sammon's side collect two points.

Nevertheless, Mullingar is a tough place to win in.

Roscommon who really impressed me last Sunday and who are making excellent strides under Fergal O'Donnell are at home to Offaly in Division 3 and should have too much for the visitors.

Elsewhere, Galway's former all-star Kevin Walsh makes his NFL debut as a county manager in division four and it will be a winning one as Sligo take on Kilkenny in Markievicz Park.

If they lose that tie, big Kevin may as well pack his bags.

The last Connacht county, Leitrim, are in Ruislip to take on London and they too should have two points on the board when they host Sligo in the second round.



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