Time has slowly ticked down to Mayo's return

GAA: Comment

Back to the winter football: Kevin McLoughlin tracks Galway's John Daly when the sides met in the FBD League back in January. Photo: Sportsfile .

Back to the winter football: Kevin McLoughlin tracks Galway's John Daly when the sides met in the FBD League back in January. Photo: Sportsfile .

It'll be 231 days, or if you prefer seven months and 17 days, or even 33 weeks if that is your favoured method of counting time, come Sunday, from the last time the Mayo senior footballers played a competitive game - to when they get back into action against Galway in Tuam Stadium.

The selection of the old ground in north Galway as the venue is a fitting one for this clash - as, although it won't end the season for Mayo, a loss to their old enemy in their favoured house from history to inflict pain on Mayo, along with a Donegal victory over Tyrone and its destination division two for Mayo y for the first time since Bertie Ahern was serving his first term as Taoiseach and the punt was still the currency of choice in the country.

The club scene was a welcome distraction and a return to some sort of normality for GAA people during the summer months into early Autumn, but now the attention turns to the big show - which, this year, is a sprint from concluding the league right through to the end of the championship in December and one with no room for error this year at all.

When things were called to a shuddering halt in early March, Mayo were standing on the precipice facing down towards division two, with two games to go, and the first of those against a high-flying Galway side who were sitting happily atop the table - with their new general, Padraig Joyce, getting plenty of plaudits from all over the country for how he had got the Tribesmen playing.

Mayo were and still are - fighting for their lives in the top flight, with one win (over Meath on the road ) and one draw (on the opening night in Donegal also on the road ) to their names. Their last outing saw them go down by a single point at home to Kerry - a game that was, incidentally, postponed for the much more milder concern of inclement weather, from the night before to the Sunday afternoon.

Even after a strong comeback from nine points down at one stage in that game and having a chance to sneak a draw at the death, it did look like Mayo were going to be in serious bother the following fortnight against a rising Tribesmen - but other far, far more serious concerns have taken over since then and still are centre-stage in people's hearts and minds - but Sunday will hopefully be able to provide something to distract them from the worries of the world.

While this is technically the same season, in reality it'll be approached as a new one, and one Mayo have to take on as if each game is a knock-out, even in the two league games to go; the championship may be starting in a couple of weeks time in Carrick-on-Shannon, but there are other things to deal with before then.

James Horan has had his charges back in his full control for a good while since September 14 and they have been working out their kinks on the challenge game circuit, as he looks to restructure his squad into the best side possible to step up to the task. The club championship being played out in its entirety before the inter-county side got back to their basics - will have certainly given plenty of food for thought for the Mayo manager, who was a regular fixture at games across the county in the early days of the return and then in MacHale Park for the closing few rounds of action.

Plenty of players put their hands up for consideration and some who were part of the set-up might have even played their way out of contention - but integrating new faces at short notice into a machine that has been working quite well for the past number of years, can be a difficult transition, but that still doesn't mean it's not a worthwhile venture.

We will see how things get going on Sunday - oh and if you're interested, the gap between Mayo's last game of 2019 - which was the All Ireland semi-final loss to Dublin in August - and their first game of 2020, which was another tussle with the Tribesmen, this time in the FBD League in January - was just 155 days - so it's one of the longest inter-county off-seasons this Mayo side will have had.


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