Royal visitors come to MacHale Park

GAA: National Football League

When Mayo slipped through the relegation trapdoor for the first time in a generation last year, falling into division two alongside them was the visitors to MacHale Park on Sunday, Meath.

The Royal County had just the one year stay in division one, before returning to the second tier and, like Mayo - they have already booked a shot at getting straight back up to the top level, having won two games from two so far in the league this season and booking a spot in the divisional semi-finals.

The last time these sides met, the country wasn't fully focused on Covid-19 yet, but it was wrapped up in something else very important the day the sides met in Páirc Tailteann in Navan last February, as it was the day that counting in last year's General Election took place.

Mayo got the win in that game, but it was far from easy - with a late Kevin Mcloughlin goal key to a 1-9 to 2-5 win, that in the end, kept Mayo in the hunt to avoid relegation until the final day of the league season.

So far this season, just like Mayo, Meath have seen off both Westmeath and Down. Similar to Mayo last weekend, they had to come from behind to see off their western neighbours in round one and they followed that up with a comprehensive win over Down last Sunday.

For both managers - James Horan and Andy McEntee - Sunday offers a free hand if they want to try out some of their fringe players and get some game time into their legs, with both sides already having a spot secured in the divisional semi-finals.

Horan showed that he has no problem switching things up last Saturday, when he made no less than seven changes to the those named in the match day 26 that was announced in the days before the game.

Ben Doyle and Eoghan McLaughlin from Westport both got starts in defence, while Conor Loftus started the game on the 40. Kilmeena's Jack Carney got his first senior game time for Mayo off the bench after being a late addition, while Knockmore's Darren McHale, Breaffy's Conor O'Shea and Ardagh's James Carr were all added as late bench options for Mayo for that game.

Horan has spoken in the past about the issue of having to submit a team list before the team have even had their last training session before a game - as not being practical, as he can't say for sure if a player is coming back from a knock, that they'll make it, or the potential of a player he wants to use, getting a knock in that training session before the game.

One major positive that Mayo will take from their first two outings is that they are hitting big scores, they have registered 21 points in both of their games to date, and bagged two goals against Down in the process. If you look at the early rounds of the league last year and of course the caveat that Mayo were playing in a higher division with tougher teams in the rounds before the league was suspended, the Mayo return on the points ledger in those early games was: Donegal 13, Dublin 8, Meath 9, Monaghan 13 and Kerry 13 - the Mayo attack has certainly found its shooting boots early doors this year.

It will be interesting to see what team takes to the field on Sunday, will Horan stick with as much consistency as possible to keep the momentum moving - or use it as a chance for those who want to be in his thoughts come championship in the near future, to sink or swim when given the chance?

With just four weeks to go before the championship throws in against Sligo in Markievicz Park and one more competitive game to go before that game after this weekend - it will soon all come down to training games and behind closed doors challenge matches for those who are trying to make the break to impress and get into his thoughts.

Sunday could be the premier opportunity for some - if selected.


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