The fun, the craic and the stories from Mayo’s recent New York trip need to be parked as of right away.
New York was more about an occasion than a game. Now it's time to get serious. The championship proper starts this weekend for Mayo. Many people and pundits feel Mayo's game against Roscommon is going to be a stroll in the park, that it's only a matter of turning up.
I prefer to err on the side of caution. I feel it will be far from straightforward. Anthony Cunningham’s charges are not coming to Castlebar to just roll over. Nothing other than total focus and commitment from Mayo will suffice to win the game.
The Rossies' would love nothing more than to knock us off our little perch, to lay down a marker against division one champions, a team that humiliated them in 2017 in the All-Ireland quarter final replay, winning that day by 4-19 to 0-9 in Croke Park.
Roscommon come into this game as rank outsiders following relegation from division one while Mayo of course romped to the title. Roscommon’s league form was patchy but they were competitive against some of the big hitters of the modern era and that cannot be overlooked. They defeated Monaghan and drew with Tyrone, a game they should have won.
The week after Mayo's disastrous league performance in Croke Park against Dublin, Roscommon made Dublin work extremely hard to win their league clash, the Dubs' needing two fairly fortuitous goals to win the day. Lest we forget, Mayo only defeated Roscommon by a single point in their league clash in Castlebar, albeit in atrocious conditions.
It is a perfect case scenario for Roscommon, nobody is expecting them to get anything from the game except maybe themselves, they have absolutely nothing to lose and therefore can throw the kitchen sink at it. There is the slight worry that complacency may be a factor from a Mayo view point. If players are to believe everything they hear or read then it is only a matter of turning up.
I’m actually getting a little worried by the general consensus among the public. “This is the year” - I have heard it several times now from inside and outside the county and it frankly worries me.
James Horan isn't foolish enough to let that sort of opinion into his camp. He knows its one game at a time from now on in. Although our first championship game was against New York, this is the one that Horan would have targeted after the league success. Cavan’s defeat of Monaghan last weekend should have a sobering knock-on effect for everyone involved.
Cavan, like Roscommon, were also relegated from division one but played like a team that had rubber-stamped their status in the top tier and there was very little Monaghan could do about it when the going got tough. That result will have done no harm at all to focus the Mayo minds. Anything can happen between the white lines if one team is up for it and the other isn't.
Personnel wise, Roscommon haven't been able to pick from a full deck as has been the case down the years. Three of their main players over the last number of years have opted out this year for various reasons. Cathal Compton, of course, played against us for New York while Niall McInerney has opted out as he is in the final year of his studies to become a doctor and influential forward Ciaran Murtagh has decided to go travelling for the year.
The big question is, are Roscommon capable of delivering without such quality players? I could never imagine a Mayo player coughing up the chance to represent their county for whatever reason. From all accounts Mayo’s training camp in Rockland’s after the win over New York was of great benefit to the group as were last weekend's intensive sessions in Castlebar.
Mayo training would have been fairly intense the last number of weeks. There was enough personnel injured or not required in Gaelic Park to field a very strong B team. Those guys will want to be playing against Roscommon on Saturday, that’s a given.
Mayo's superior bench, big match experience and physicality should be enough to see us through this one but not without an early scare or two. Will the Rossies' be able to cope with our extremely athletic and attacking back line? The simple answer is no, not many teams can. Mayo 2/9 draw10/1 Roscommon 9/2. Mayo by five or six for me.
I was in Markievicz Park last weekend for the Sligo and Galway game and in all honesty, I nearly fell asleep at it. The first half was dire and dour at the same time. Galway did open up at the start of the second half to close the game out with the very impressive Liam Silke bagging himself 1-2 for the Tribesmen.
It's no wonder Sligo have been relegated to division one of the league. They will be easy pickings for any team in a qualifier. Galway, on the other hand, find themselves through to the Connacht final, having played poorly in three halves of their two championship games. The purists will be demanding a restructuring of the championship on that basis.