It is game five of Mayo's 2016 championship campaign as we travel to Croke Park to take on Westmeath tomorrow afternoon. I know some are giving out about the choice of venue but I love going to Croke Park, you never get sick of the place and the fact there is a double header along with Donegal and Cork makes it all the more appealing.
I have to admit it is novel having to play teams like Fermanagh, Kildare, and now Westmeath, as normally game five of Mayo's campaign is against Kerry, Dublin, Tyrone, or Donegal in a semi-final or final. Will Mayo beat Westmeath? Absolutely is the answer. There is a small conundrum however for Stephen Rochford and his management team to deal with. Does he risk Tom Parsons, Chris Barrett, and any other players recovering from injury against Westmeath with the chance they may have a recurrence of their injuries or does he leave them to have another week's rehabilitation to be fit for a potential quarter final against Tyrone or Dublin? The other big question is if he does not play them, will they be match fit for a mammoth tussle with either Tyrone or Dublin? No matter how much training you do and how you mind yourself off the field nothing compares to the intensity of a championship game where your body asks questions of itself and a player almost always has to dig into reserves he did not know were there. This is where our excellent and experienced medical team will earn their crust as the recovery process is so specific and scientific in the modern era, Rochford will want to know exactly what is best for his team. Any player that wants to start in the quarter-final will have to get some game time against Westmeath and they will know that. We will need a healthy squad for the run in.
Westmeath gave a good account of themselves in the first half against Dublin before capitulating in the second half. Dublin turned a one point half time lead into a 15 point stroll in the park win as the midlanders' legs died after their first half exploits. They have a few good players. Kieran Martin and especially John Heslin will merit watching but both can be snuffed out. As I said before any Mayo defender should embrace such a challenge and be willing to take them on head on. James Dolan is a very energetic attacking half back who will probably be given the job of shackling Diarmuid O'Connor so good luck to him with that.
One very noticeable tactic deployed by Westmeath against Dublin was the way they got in their faces and tried to rattle a few cages, a lot of times off the ball I might add. You should never annoy a wounded lion and Dublin responded, annihilating them at the finish. It was an attempt to get reactions from the Dublin players and Diarmuid Connolly duly obliged, let's hope our Diarmuid plays ball for the whole game. I expect they will not attempt such tactics against Mayo as they will probably feel they have a better chance of beating Mayo than they had of beating Dublin.
I hope Mayo are ruthless and show the watching nation that we are not gone away. Mayo should be aiming for a 10 point victory and do what Dublin or Kerry would do, rub salt into the wounds, do not settle for five or six points, lay down a marker. In a similar circumstance last year Westmeath were thrashed by Fermanagh after losing to Dublin in the Leinster final, surely Mayo will do the same.
There is still romance left in the game
I was at the Roscommon and Clare qualifier in Galway last weekend to witness the Rossies being run ragged by a team that started this year in Division 3. It is a serious fall from grace for the Rossies who promised so much earlier in the year. In reality Clare should have won the game by 10 or 15 points and not six, as they squandered some glorious chances in the second half. It looks like Roscommon put too much effort into surviving in the league and ran out of steam for the business end of the season. Who would have thought we would see Clare and Tipperary in All-Ireland football quarter finals, the romance of the qualifiers is well and truly alive upon such achievements.
Big day out for the juniors
Well done to the Mayo junior team who have qualified for their second successive All-Ireland final. Albeit against Kerry who put on a master class in last year's final. It is a great opportunity for players from smaller clubs to get a run out in the All Ireland final representing the green and red.