Let the battles commence. With the greatest respect to the FBD league it all starts in earnest for Mayo on Sunday when they travel to Killarney to take on All-Ireland champions Kerry. The FBD league did show one thing, that Mayo are a little bit behind in terms of preparation after succumbing to a well prepared Roscommon outfit in the final game.
Playing Kerry will resurrect some dismal memories for those Mayo players who agonisingly lost the All-Ireland semi-final replay in Limerick last August. For the new management however it is a whole new ball game as they do not carry the baggage of that devastating defeat. I am sure both teams will look very different to the two that took the field in the Gaelic Grounds. I do not know if it is just me but that game seems like it was on a few years ago not just five months ago. Leaving Limerick after Mayo’s heart breaking defeat I was not too despondent because I was cocksure no team in Ireland was capable of beating the Dubs, how wrong was I?
I knew after Donegal crushed Dublin, Kerry would win the All- Ireland and make Mayo’s loss to the eventual champions 10 times worse. I would like to take people back to Eamon Fitzmaurice’s first game in charge of the Kingdom, he cut a forlorn figure walking across the McHale Park pitch after his side got demoralised by Mayo, Kerry failing to score for 45 minutes or something like that. It led to many Kerry greats questioning the Kerry team and also Fitzmaurice’s credentials.
I spoke to him after that game, as his club Finuge were playing Charlestown’s conquerors Cookstown in the All-Ireland intermediate club final as I was asked to give him a bit of insight, he was very appreciative but very down after his first game in charge. Fast forward six months and his team are involved in one of the games of the decade against the Dubs in the All-Ireland semi final, narrowly losing; 12 months later his team are All-Ireland champions despite having to play the entire year without the most influential player of the modern era, Colm ‘Gooch’ Cooper.
My point in all of this is patience, patience for Pat Holmes and Noel Connelly. Rome was not built in a day and with the strains and demands that have been placed on the current squad during James Horan’s reign, they cannot but be tired. Four solid years of reaching the penultimate or ultimate stage of the footballing season.
This will be Holmesy’s and Noel’s first difficult decision, some players will need a break, others will need games, Keith Higgins, (our new captain, a very popular and correct choice despite his retirement announcement on Twitter which sent shockwaves through the county ) Jason Gibbons, Alan Dillon, and Cillian O’Connor all had very long seasons with their clubs and will need to be monitored, it only seems like last week since they played for their clubs. The first objective surely for the new management is survival in the division, Mayo have a very proud record in division one and will want to stay there. The second objective is to find a correct formula that will make Mayo competitive in the business end of the season while hopefully finding a player or two who will make a real difference come the summer. Kerry will be there for the taking on Sunday, some of them probably still coming to terms with their All-Ireland victory and probably have not finished celebrating yet, they are also not long back from their team holiday which should give Mayo the edge, plus they will be minus Mayo tormentor in chief Kieran Donaghy who is club tied. I would like to see what tactic our new management would use to curb his threat if he was there. An away win should set Mayo up nicely as they have four home games to come later on in the league. It does represent their best chance of an away victory in this year’s national league with trips to Cork and Derry pending. The new management used 36 players in the FBD league; it will be interesting to see if any player is given his debut on Sunday. With all the injuries, unavailability, players not up to speed, and suspensions I somehow think there will be one or two debutants. Kerry and Mayo are both priced at even money to win on Sunday; I fancy Mayo but may keep my money in my pocket to see what teams hit the ground running through the four divisions. Good luck to Pat and Noel, give them the support they deserve.
It seems it is going to be a bit of a tongue twister and long winded over the next few years having to mention our joint managers’ names every time we need to, so may I suggest we find a combination of both to abbreviate the issue, how about “Conholmes” or "Holmelly”. Anyone with a better suggestion please let the Advertiser know, my broadcasting career could be on the line here. Two Garth Brooks tickets for the best suggestion. I am really looking forward to 2015.