Mayo and Westmeath come face to face this Sunday in Fr O’Hara Park Charlestown in a game from which both sides badly need to get something.
Westmeath are pointless after their two disappointing defeats to Galway and Derry, and a hat-trick of losses would leave them staring down the barrel of relegation to division two.
A massive concern too for them is that they are minus 19 in the division scoring charts which indicates some major problems at the back for a side that prided itself on being tight as a drum last season.
The midlanders face Tyrone and Kerry in their up-coming fixtures in round three and four, and you don’t want to be facing those two teams with any confidence deficit.
I saw Tomas O’ Flahearta’s men in their recent league game with Galway and in the Leinster championship against Dublin last year. The big problem they face is that their sweeper system leaves them a forward short and overly dependent on Dessie Dolan and Denis Glennon for scores.
If those two are tied up, they lose. And if the opposition keeps their spare defender in defence, then you have six on five and Westmeath struggle to get sufficient scores to win tight games.
Their heavy defeat last time out to Derry won’t have done much either to improve morale in the panel and their 2004 Leinster title seems a long way back now.
Mayo have one point in the bag from their impressive fight-back against Donegal and they will know that to progress up the table they must win at a bare minimum their home games.
John O’Mahony is one of the most experienced and successful managers in intercounty football and he will leave his charges in no doubt about the crucial nature of this Sunday’s encounter. However he has major fitness worries over four key players which does not help their cause.
Barry Moran, who has been lining out and doing well at full-forward, is likely to be out after pulling a hamstring. The Castlebar Mitchel’s clubman, who is a student at Dublin Institute of Technology, had to miss his college’s Sigerson Cup final defeat to Cork Institute of Technology last weekend which indicates the seriousness of his injury.
Regular full-back Ger Cafferkey has also suffered a recurrence of an ankle injury and he will need a good few hours on the physio table if he to man the number three jersey by Sunday.
His Ballina clubmate Pat Harte, who was an essential figure in Mayo’s second-half resurgence against Donegal, is also a doubt, as is Alan Dillon who is still suffering with a hamstring problem.
That said, one man’s injury is another player’s opportunity, and players like Kevin McLoughlin, Kieran Conroy, Austin O’Malley, Barry Kelly, and Mark Ronaldson are all pushing for places.
The game will be an all-ticket affair, and with a good attendance expected, it has the makings of a good battle. Based on Westmeath’s wishy-washy form to date, anything except a home victory would be a big surprise. Westmeath are plucky and will not be easily beaten, but if Mayo are hoping to do anything at all in the league, this is a game in which they must collect two points.