Mayo, as you know, start with a home game against Derry in Ballina on Sunday. While it is true that our preparations haven’t been perfect, with sloppy displays in the FBD league, preparations in the last two weeks have gone really well according to reports! Some of the ‘big guns’ were out last weekend in Kilmallock, where Cork were the opposition. Mayo scored 2-12 in that game against a full Cork outfit. The game ended in a draw and apparently it was a good workout for all concerned. Trevor Mortimer has returned to the fray after a couple of weeks sunning himself in South Africa and Ronan McGarrity was back at midfield having returned from his honeymoon. Mayo were as near full strength as possible, with only the injured Conor Mortimer not featuring as he had minor surgery on a broken nose received a week earlier. After this game and another workout on Sunday morning against a Mayo u21 selection management would more than likely have made their minds up on a starting 15 for Sunday. At the time of writing the Mayo team hasn’t yet been selected but I will be surprised if it isn’t Clarke, Vaughan, Cafferkey, Liam O’Malley, Gardiner, Cunniffe, Pat Kelly, McGarrity, Parsons, Trevor Mortimer, Dillon, Padden, Conor Mortimer, Barry Moran, and Andy Moran. If Conor Mortimer isn’t selected then I expect Mickey Sweeney might get the nod here as he scored a goal and two points from three efforts against Cork. I believe we will get our campaign off to a winning start on Sunday. Derry are missing quite a few of their stars as I believe Mark Lynch, Enda Muldoon, Niall McCusker, Kevin McCloy, Colin Devlin, and Paddy Bradley are not available on Sunday for one reason or another.
Put it this way, if Mayo can’t beat Derry at fortress Ballina (we haven’t lost a league match there in years ) then I feel we will struggle in division one. We are lucky in that we have four league matches at home and it is a widely held view that home venue is always worth a few points on the board. With Westmeath, Dublin, and Tyrone all travelling west I genuinely feel it is possible to get six points from these four games. A further two points from any of the other four games would see us in contention for a semi- final position next April. I am sure management have emphasised how important it is to continue to play the best teams in the country, and it is crucial that we survive and continue to play in Division 1 in order to do so.
Saturday night lights
League football returns this weekend with a mouth watering opener tomorrow evening between Tyrone and Dublin in Croke Park. And this match is the prelude to what will hopefully be an exciting National League with the new Dublin management relishing the prospect of seeing their side go into action against the Red Hands. Meetings between Dublin and Tyrone are always fiercely contested (last year’s championship quarter final being an exception ) and being played in front of a near capacity crowd on the last day in January it promises to be quite a night. It has all the ingredients of a cracker as Dublin will be very keen to impress the new management team in their first real competitive outing of the new campaign. Tyrone , the All- Ireland champions, are really flying at the moment and of all the teams they play in this year’s league they won’t want to be beaten by the Dubs. These two sides have gone at one another as if their lives depended on each outcome in recent years, particularly in their league encounters. Dublin, like most teams in the country, have by now realised that if they are to have any chance of beating the northern teams of recent years they have to bulk up in order to compete on a level playing field. In 2003 Dublin were well and truly beaten by Armagh in both league and championship. The following spring they arrived in Omagh under new management and threw down a marker that day that they weren’t going to be whipping boys anymore for anyone. Dublin came out on top that day. It is fair to say that Tyrone have become the true benchmark for all teams in recent years and any team that can compete with the current All- Ireland champions will assume that they have a decent side. Apparently the Dublin squad have indicated to this year’s management that the over reliance on the physical dimension just doesn’t suit the traditional Dublin playing style. According to reports, they have realigned their playing strategy, under new coach Mickey Whelan, with a policy of moving the ball quickly and not taking it into the tackle. The new plan is to try to beat teams by using their physical fitness and ball skills. It is a big year for the Dubs and after spending a week in Spain warm weather training they should be buzzing tomorrow night. It will be interesting also to see how the Tyrone footballers have wintered. They are a really smart team that rarely overdo it on the chicken and ham circuit, and having watched them beat Monaghan fairly comfortably last Sunday week in the McKenna Cup, they too look like they mean business again in 2009. A match not to be missed, as not alone will we have the luxury of watching what should be a great game but the event will also include music, entertainment, and a lighting and fireworks extravaganza for all as the GAA kick starts its '125' year celebrations. I see where there are a few VIP hospitality tickets still available at €195 + vat. This ticket will get you a pre- match three course buffet, selected wines, a category one match ticket, complimentary bar prior to the game (cash bar post match! ) and a souvenir match programme. Make of that what you will but for my book it’s a massive ask, particularly in the present times.
Stretching the cash a bit further
On a different, less upbeat, note the recession has stretched its tentacles out and touched our Gaelic games at ground level. The downturn in the economy has caused a significant reduction in the amount of money collected by clubs through the weekly Saturday night lotto. With fewer punters frequenting the primary source of most €2s collected, ie, the pub, clubs will have to become more innovative with fundraising schemes in order to keep the financial support necessary for running of club activities. Some clubs have already compiled a database of existing €2 clients in order to continue collecting this precious revenue. Finally, I hear that the Cork County Board are pleading for the Hurling Championship to be pushed out to a July start to allow for the new Cork panel to complete their Junior Certs!!!