Mayo get their National Football League campaign under way on Sunday away to Cork in Páirc Uí Rinn, and for new manager Stephen Rochford it is going to the first major test of his side's credentials in the new season. Rochford will be dealing from a slightly rigged deck when he makes his first team selection, with no players from Castlebar Mitchels available to him, or from Hollymout-Carramore and Ardnaree who have booked their places in their respective All Ireland club finals.
Added to that is an injury list that increased over the FBD League run, with both Keith Higgins and Kevin Keane out of action for at least this weekend in Higgins' case, those two joined Cillian O'Connor, Alan Dillon, Andy Moran, Seamus O’Shea, and Chris Barrett who are on the long term absentee list. There are some players returning and ready for some sort of action to soften the blow and these includes Aidan O'Shea, Mikie Sweeney, David Drake, Cathal Carolan (back after a long term injury ), Evan Regan, and Michael Hall.
Speaking at the launch of the National League earlier this week in Dublin, Rochford said that it was all about maintaining Mayo's position in the top division over the coming months. "In the short term it is about going into the National League and survival in that, accumulating as many points as possible, and knowing that we are going to be doing that on the basis that we are going to be missing a lot of players, trying a couple of new players and a bit of experimentation in that aspect as well," he said. "That's really where my focus has been, it's not peeking in the rear-view mirror."
Tough road ahead for Mayo
Rochford will name his side for the game this evening after the team train in Castlebar and the Mayo public will be eagerly waiting to see his first line-up to go out in national competition. Cork come into the game on the back of a win in their pre-season competition the McGrath Cup and, like Mayo, will also have a new manager with Peader Healy on the sideline for the Rebels. Healy was part of Conor Counihan's backroom team when Cork won the All Ireland in 2010 and he'll be looking to make home advantage count on Sunday.
It will be the second year in a row that Mayo will make the trip to the ground formerly known as Flower Lodge for a league game; last time out Mayo were pipped to the points by a late Brian Hurley goal which wiped out a winning position for Mayo, Rochford will be hoping for Mayo to be a lot tighter at the back come Sunday.
Mayo face a tough opening to the league, with All Ireland champions Dublin coming to MacHale Park six days after the Cork game, and then they face into two tough road trips in late February early March, first to Ballybofey where they will take on Donegal, and then Castleblayney where the Ulster champions Monaghan will be waiting for them. With survival the first aim for Rochford getting as many points on the board from these opening games is the number one priority going down the home stretch of league games. "The big important part from the outset will be that we get enough points in the league so that we can continue to experiment and it's not a do-or-die-type game going into the final stretch."