For the second successive year a scent of controversy has followed Mayo into a qualifier game.
Last year's Newbridge or nowhere scenario which received negative publicity, that we somehow got dragged into but had absolutely nothing to do with, was all about the fact that St Conleth's Park in Newbridge was deemed insufficient to cater for our large support. It was a row between Kildare GAA and the Central Competitions Control Committee or the CCCC as it is commonly known, yet we somehow got flak for it.
On Saturday evening the 7pm throw in time against Down in Pairc Eisler Newry has incensed many supporters because of the lack of understanding by the CCCC allowing the anti Mayo keyboard warriors to come out in force suggesting the “Mayo whingers are at it again”. When the fixtures dates and times for the round two qualifiers were released the chosen throw in time of 7pm did not bother me as I presumed Sky wanted to show the game live and we simply had no choice.
But on reflection it is not at all considerate for the travelling support. As we know, anything can happen in a football match (especially involving Mayo ) and should the game go to extra time and then penalties (as would be the case if level after extra time ) it could be close to 10pm before supporters get to leave Newry. If you have to travel back to the likes of Achill or Belmullet thereafter it could be nearly bright by the time you get home making it a very enduring away day.
Hopefully that scenario does not present itself and Mayo get the job done in normal time. Down are a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde team, you never really know what you are going to get, a bit like ourselves really. They finished third in division three of this year's league, level on 10 points with finalists Westmeath and Laois, but losing out to Louth in Newry in a rescheduled game after the league was played out cost them dearly. Had they won that they would have guaranteed promotion and a place in the division three final. Losing that game was a serious setback for them having made all the early running in the league. They ended up losing to Armagh in the Ulster quarter final after extra time by 3-13 to 2-17 in what was a pulsating contest. Down having played the entire second half of that game with 14 men after the controversial sending off of Caolan Mooney.
They went three points clear in extra time and looked home and hosed but a somewhat fortuitous goal by Armagh sub Andrew Murnin won the day for Armagh and condemned Down to the qualifiers. Down eventually got the better of Tipperary in their first round qualifier by 1-13 to 1-10, a goal by Donal O'Hare in the 59th minute along with five points from the Down bench helping to seal the deal. Amazingly that was their first qualifier win in five years. It is important to note, the game v Tipp which was also on in Newry was delayed because of the large attendance.
Since the loss to Roscommon it almost feels like Mayo are out of the championship but that feeling will not be long changing on Saturday evening. However the news that emerged last Friday night that Matthew Ruane had suffered a broken collar bone at training certainly left us cursing our luck again.
Big calls for Horan to make
In times of despair you need a little bit of fortune to go your way, not one knock back after another. In 2018 it was the same, losing Tom Parsons to that dreadful injury. It just goes to show you how far Matty Ruane has come on in 2019. He was not even on the radar six months ago for some, now some sectors feel our chances of a run in the qualifiers and making the Super 8s has diminished with his injury.
His form in the league would suggest he has left a big gap to fill. It is a sickening blow for him to get injured at such an important time of the year so all we can do is wish him a speedy recovery. Regarding who will fill that void, let's not forget Donie Vaughan is still very much involved and has loads of experience around the middle of the park, and remember the performance put in by Diarmuid O'Connor at midfield in Newbridge last year coupled with his virtuoso performances in that area for his club Ballintubber.
These are all the big calls James Horan will have to make along with who will find themselves between the posts. I expect Mayo to have a kick in them and that mistakes from the Roscommon game have been well and truly ironed out. I hope we see Cillian O'Connor back and raring to go. We need him. The atmosphere will be hostile but Mayo have the experience to handle it. Mayo are 1/8 to win the game. A focused Mayo should win by five.
Have to hand it to the Rossies
What more can you say about the Rossies? Connacht Champions 2019, no one saw that coming six weeks ago. You have to tip your hat to them after steam rolling Galway in the second half on their own patch. A lot of questions to be answered in Galway I expect.
Sometimes I wonder how fixtures are decided upon? Last weekend, one solitary football match, the Connacht final. This weekend, the other three Provincial finals along with eight football qualifiers. A feast or a famine. Surely some of the qualifiers or another provincial final could have been played out last weekend.