Sunday will be the last time the public get to see Mayo in action on their home patch until June 18 at the earliest, when their Connacht semi-final against Galway is scheduled to take place, providing of course that Mayo get over London in Ruislip at the tail end of May. The last time a new Mayo manager faced into a game against London on their own patch it nearly derailed the James Horan project before it even got going.
But on Sunday, it is a matter of making sure that Mayo are playing division one football next year in the league, that is of more pressing concern than what is coming down the line in summer time. Last Sunday's win over Roscommon was Mayo's second win in the league this season, and another victory in two days' time is needed to ensure that Mayo are still in the top division come the start of everything in 2017.
So this is the way things stand before a ball is thrown in on Sunday. Down are relegated and going back to division two next year, Monaghan currently are sitting in second last place and in the final relegation spot on four points, with a scoring difference of -12. Mayo are third from bottom also on four points and also with a scoring difference of -12, but are ahead of Monaghan by virtue of their head-to-head record this year thanks to Mayo's win in Clones. Cork are next in line, fourth bottom from the table on six points with a scoring difference of -11, and Donegal are in fourth place in the table which currently has them in the last semi-final spot on six points and scoring difference of +13.
First off Mayo need to win on Sunday, if Mayo win against Down, Monaghan will also have to win against Donegal which will leave all three sides (Mayo, Monaghan, and Donegal ) level on six points, forcing scoring difference to come into play rather than head-to-head results. So Mayo will be looking to better a win by Monaghan at the least. Cork could also come into the equation if they lose to Kerry which would see their scoring difference at the best drop to the -12, so wins for Mayo and Monaghan and big defeat for Cork would send the Rebels down to division two next year. And of course a series of freak results like big wins for Mayo and Monaghan, where Mayo at least better Monaghan's win and Cork not picking up anything against Kerry could see Mayo still reach the semi-final, but that is very unlikely. It is all a bit complicated but by around 4pm on Sunday we will know the outcome.
Last weekend there was a welcome boost for Rochford with the return of both Alan Dillon and Cillian O'Connor to Mayo colours, and the Crossmolina man was happy with what he saw: “It was great to see. They came in and contributed very well but you know the 21 guys contributed and that I’d say, the wider panel of 30 plus really contributed in the last two weeks, there was a great edge in our training and we’ll need that again this week.” Evan Regan was another man who stood up and was counted the last day and Rochford hopes to see more of that from him and others again this time out. "It’s satisfying, a number of them, Conor O’Shea and Evan [Regan] being the two guys that have less experience, have been really working hard in training and what we have been saying is the harder you work the luckier you get. Evan had one of those days: he got his goal, he got his free and a nice point at the start of the game, it’s about building that into a consistent level. Can we do that again next Sunday?"
Down are already on the way back to division two for next year after their brief stint with the top eight sides this year, and Mayo will be looking to pile on the misery on them to ensure that they do not follow the Mourne into the second tier, and Rochford will be hoping that a mini-injury crisis clears up, last weekend he had to do without the services of both Kevin McLoughlin and Keith Higgins for the game, while Donal Vaughan was only able to last the first half of the contest and Ger Cafferkey had to leave the game with a hamstring injury. It also emerged this week that Tom Cunniffe will not be joining up with the Mayo panel this term. The Castlebar man had been expected to come back into the squad in recent weeks following Castlebar Mitchels' All Ireland club adventure which ended on St Patrick's Day.
Rochford's choices will also be limited with the Connacht U21 football final taking place on Saturday evening between Mayo and Roscommon in Sligo town and it would not be realistic to expect that Diarmuid O'Connor, Michael Hall, Conor Loftus, and Stephen Coen would be able to play two such big games in less than 24 hours of each other.