Over the past few years, Mayo haven’t really faced a must-win game until summer had really kicked in and summer holidays were in full swing. But this Sunday in the middle of the Easter break, Mayo are staring down the barrel of a must-win game of football or Division Two next year is becoming a very real possability.
And no one would relish sending Mayo a step closer to falling through the trap door and for 2017 than the side they are facing this Sunday. Roscommon were tipped to struggle to hold on to their newly-won division one status this year, but they have compounded the critics at every corner since learning on day one this season that you’ve got to close games out when Monaghan caught them at the death.
Victories over Kerry, Cork, and Donegal on the road aren’t easily gotten as Mayo can attest to and that’s exactly what Kevin McStay and Fergal O’Donnell’s charges have managed to do and do it in some style to boot. Roscommon are looking forward to action in the semi-finals of the league at the least while Mayo are hoping to avoid the use of calculators and relying on favours come Sunday week to make sure that come the start of next Spring they are mixing it with the big boys in league football and not trying to navigate the tricky waters of Division Two.
Speaking this week at a GAA event ahead of the game, Mayo’s Kevin McLoughlin said that confidence was still good in the camp despite the fact they have suffered four defeats in their opening five games of this years national league. “No, I wouldn't say it’s taken a battering with the results. From our point of view, we haven’t got the wins that we would have liked, ‘no’, but we’ve had some good performances in patches along the way. Let’s say our last game with Kerry, we had a very strong first half.
“But, we didn't follow up with a good second half so we know the performances are in us. It’s just to make sure it happens over a full game. We know we have the ability still.”
The Knockmore man has enjoyed working under the new Mayo management headed up by Stephen Rochford adding that, “We are enjoying training so far and hearing new ideas. I suppose having a new manager with different ideas, different identity and things like that. So far, we have enjoyed it. Maybe it doesn’t look like it so far, maybe because of the results and that kind of thing. Training is going well and overall we are enjoying what we are doing. I think we are on the incline at this stage. From the outside it may not look like that, but we feel it is from the inside.”
Rochford has brought on board former Crossmaglen manager Tony McEntee who is known as one of the most astute readers of the game in the country, and his addition has been welcomed by the multiple Connacht title winner. "Midweek he is training guys in Dublin, then he is in Mayo at the weekends. At any stage maybe during training they might split us into different groups. Getting to hear his opinion, coming from Crossmaglen, Armagh, they have their style of play, different ways they defend and things. It's great hearing it from someone else. I think he’s a great addition to us.”
Through injury, unavailibilty or design, Rochford has had to give a number of young players and others who are looking to take their chance a run in the league this year and the Knockmore flyer has been impressed by what the new faces has brought to the set up. “We have a couple of good guys in there now,” McLoughlin stated. “Jason Gibbons is back in the panel, he wasn’t in the panel last year. We have guys like Shane Nally and others like Conor Loftus, and Michael Hall, they are very good underage players for Mayo. Some of those boys won an All-Ireland with that minor team. They will be extremely good footballers over the coming months and hopefully the coming years as well.”
As for Sunday’s trip to Roscommon, McLoughlin is fully aware of what is at stake for Mayo but he’s looking forward to getting out there and doing what they have to do.
“It’s a challenge in a way. It’s something we are looking forward to. We do want to go up to win this game. In one sense you could nearly see it as a Championship type of game.”