Mayo travel to the Kingdom for a mouth-watering top-of-the-table clash against Kerry in round five of the national league on Saturday evening in Tralee.
In fairness, is there any clash in division one that isn't mouth-watering? This game however is a little bit more intriguing than most because it's against Kerry and more so, because both teams are unbeaten in this year's national league, so something has to give.
Mayo have impressively beaten Monaghan, Dublin and Armagh so far but Saturday's contest will, no question, be the ultimate test and give us a clear indication of where we really are at in terms of being ready for another serious assault at winning that elusive All-Ireland.
After fluffing their lines somewhat against Kildare, only drawing in round one, Kerry have won comfortably against Dublin (by six ), Monaghan (by eight ) and Donegal (by nine ) in horrendous conditions in Killarney in their last home game. Their +24 scoring difference is 15 points ahead of Mayo's after four rounds of the league. Put simply, they are scoring heavy and conceding very little.
This year's All-Ireland seems as open as it's ever been and both of theses teams will have their eye on the big prize down the line. That is what makes Saturday's encounter a fascinating contest.
Everyone putting their hand up
James Horan has chopped and changed his team impressively on a grand scale from week to week in this year's league but one thing has remained constant, the results. I think it's safe to say any one of 25 players could start for Mayo right now, which is a very healthy predicament for the management team.
With safety guaranteed, the big question now facing Mayo is, do they try to continue their good momentum and go after the league title or do they plan for down the line and the opening round of the Connacht championship? Of course, you are not going to go out and intentionally try to lose a game but certainly, it wouldn't be worth taking a risk on a player who's carrying a niggle or in need of a rest, to win a league game that might jeopardise his involvement against Galway in April.
Mayo's last round of the league against Kildare is on March 27 and the league final is fixed for April 3. Should Mayo qualify for the division one final it's only three weeks out from the much-anticipated championship match against Galway. Playing in a league final against quality opposition (most likely Kerry ) in Croke Park would be of more benefit than four intensive A versus B in-house games.
Tight turnarounds this season
This new condensed season has certainly added a new dimension to inter-county management. Trying to peak at the right time is key. Mayo and Kerry have the luxury of knowing they will be playing division one football in 2023, no matter what happens in the rest of the league.
None of the other teams can boast that luxury just yet. Relegation is demoralising for the confidence of any team, hence the reason all the others have to go hammer and tongs to ensure survival. Waiting for Mayo's team announcement of late now is like opening a lucky bag. You have no idea what you might get.
We all felt the team he announced against the Dubs was a bit lightweight and not going to start. Well it did and they surprised us all, winning handsomely at HQ. No matter where you are in the pecking order in the squad, you want to be in consideration for games against Kerry because if you are picked to play in that fixture, it certainly means the management feels you have something valuable to offer. Saturday's selection will certainly command much discussion and debate as is always the case in such a football-mad county like ours. Kerry are warm favourites at 4/9 with Mayo priced at 9/4. There is rarely much in these games, the draw is a very inviting 15/2
I can only presume that the general public are well aware the championship is not that far away and that in 2022 the Sam Maguire will be presented to the All-Ireland winning captain on Sunday, July 24, providing of course that the final doesn't finish in a draw.
The All-Ireland hurling and football finals are the only games that will go to a replay in 2022 if the teams finish level, all others have to be decided on the day. Mayo's championship opener against Connacht rivals Galway is only around the corner on April 24.
With the season condensed and little or no time in between games, March has all of a sudden turned into the old May, in terms of preparation. Put simply, now is the time to be getting your act together for a good run in the championship, looking for steady improvements from week to week and a more settled starting 15.
Tribesmen on the move
Galway are moving along nicely in division two having won their first four games, but a worrying aspect for them is the concession of 5-27 in their last two games against Cork and Offaly, two teams in the lower positions of the division. The acid tests in division 2 of the league have yet to come for Padraic Joyce's charges.
Their league fate will be determined after two away games against fellow table-toppers, Derry, in round 6 and what ultimately could become a winner-gets-promoted match-up against the Rossies in round seven, who are also going well in division two. Galway's immediate objective is promotion back to division one and should that be achieved, the focus will then turn to Mayo.
No doubt Padraic Joyce will be trying to shore up his defence in the lead-up to that much-anticipated match against Mayo and make his team harder to score against.