Now it starts to get real. While the championship is the ultimate barometer of success in Gaelic games, a successful league campaign is the foundation stone of what happens in the white heat of summer fare.
Pat Holmes and Noel Connelly know well that getting a good start in the league is key to their side’s chances of staying in the top division and potentially making a league semi-final at least.
Getting to a league semi-final or final, while it may cause a bit of havoc with club action in the county, could be vital for Mayo in their preparation for their potential championship opener against Galway in Salthill. Mayo’s last scheduled league game is at home to Donegal on Sunday April 5 and they are not scheduled to be back in action again until Sunday June 14, potentially against a Galway side that will have two championship games under their belt if they can overcome New York and Leitrim in May, whereas Mayo could have nine weeks between their two last competitions if they don’t make the knockout rounds of the competition.
The Mayo team for Sunday was due to be announced shortly after this newspaper went to print yesterday, but with Cillian O’Connor out due to suspension after his red card at the death against Kerry in last year’s All Ireland semi-final replay in Limerick, and both Alan Dillon and Andy Moran not expected back for another few weeks, there will be plenty of changes in the Mayo line-up from their last competitive national outing.
Mayo supporters have yet to see new captain, Keith Higgins, or Aidan O’Shea in competitive action this year as both work their way back from injury and both are hoped to play some part in Sunday’s game against the All Ireland champions.
Other walking wounded who are working their way back to full fitness includes Ger Cafferkey and Michael Conroy, who both picked up injuries in Mayo’s opening FBD League game against NUIG, while Diarmuid O’Connor was forced to pull out of last weekend’s Hastings Cup semi-final for the county’s u21 team against Roscommon due to a dead leg sustained against the Roscommon seniors this week.
One Mayo man who hit the headlines this week, and could be in with a shout of getting some game time, is Ballina’s Evan Regan who kicked 1-4 for IT Sligo in their surprise win over Queens in the Sigerson Cup in Belfast in a snow covered Belfast on Wednesday night.
Speaking at the national launch of the National League on Monday, Mayo’s Seamus O’Shea said: “We’ve got off to a slow start in the league over the last couple of years so it would be nice to get off to a good start and pick up a couple of points.” He added: “The teams that get relegated and the teams that get to the semi-final stages, there’s only a couple of points between them, it’s very competitive.”
One final side note is that Mayo will be wearing a new away kit for their game against Kerry, it was confirmed this week by county board PRO Aidan McLoughlin, who also informed the Advertiser that they would be trying to keep it under wraps until game day on Sunday. Both the official Mayo GAA Twitter page and that of team sponsors Elvery’s tweeted cryptic pictures of what looks like the back of a black coloured Mayo jersey with the tag line “This Year is Different 01-02-2015” and the hashtag #daretobedifferent on Tuesday.