With respect to the FBD league Mayo's season kicks off in earnest this Sunday when they travel to Clones to take on Monaghan in the first round of the National Football League. The FBD was somewhat of a calamitous affair this year with the weather playing puck with fixtures resulting in postponements and last minute cancellations. The decision to call off the Mayo v Galway game at the 11th hour the most frustrating postponement, as almost 3,000 spectators had gathered in Baltic conditions in Elverys MacHale Park. Most wondered why the decision was not made earlier. That re-fixture meant Mayo of course had to play three games in five days, two of which were lost while the other was a draw. Amazingly last weekend Mayo's game went ahead against Sligo albeit after a venue change. It was the only inter county game that took place last Sunday.
Stephen Rochford stated a number of weeks back that this year's league was going to be challenging, testing, and tough. I cannot help but agree. Division one status for the 2019 season has to be the main ambition and priority for this year's league campaign. Lets be realistic here, Mayo are not going to win this year's league title. It is not the priority, it is not the main agenda. For me that would be an unrealistic target considering numerous factors.
The most notable of all these is the list of players unavailable to Stephen Rochford. Some players are going to miss the first few rounds because of unavailability and slight niggles while other key players have been ruled out for the entire league. So when you consider that Mayo are going into battle next Sunday possibly without Keith Higgins, Chris Barrett, Lee Keegan, Donal Vaughan, Seamie O'Shea, and Tom Parsons, you can see the task that lies ahead. It is presumed that some of the aforementioned are not going to be available for the entire league and the first competitive action they will see will be on May 13 against Galway in Castlebar. The second factor which will surely have a significant effect is that Mayo were much later than all the other teams preparing for the start of this year's league (excluding Dublin of course ). The bulk of the players are not long home from the team's much deserved annual holiday and although there was some collective training done while away, the players were allowed to let their hair down and their break was not run like a military training camp.
Mayo had up to 60 players on the panel for this year's FBD league including last year's panel who were away for the start. Nearly 50 different players were used during this year's FBD. Some of those players were gap fillers, others will be genuine contenders to give it a good lash and make a name for themselves in a Mayo jersey. Stephen Rochford has clearly indicated there will be new faces on some team sheets for this year's league campaign, he really has no choice. What will be interesting is to see who he thinks can make a difference. Eoin O'Donoghue and Fionn McDonagh are two who stood up during the FBD, but again I cannot emphasise enough the jump in standard from FBD to division one of the national league, and then on again to championship. We can only hope that some of the new blood can adapt as quickly as possible. They will need to step up.
Normally home wins in the league are crucial to avoid relegation but when you consider Mayo’s three home games this year are against Kerry, Dublin, and Tyrone, maybe away trips to the likes of Galway, Donegal, and Kildare might be more feasible for accumulating points to avoid the drop. Sunday's opponents Monaghan might be a week too soon for Mayo all matters considered. Monaghan have some quality players and will be well prepared by Malachy O'Rourke. They will still be reeling from their capitulation against Dublin in last year's quarter final where they lost by 10 points. If Mayo avoid relegation this year they will have amassed an amazing 22 years in a row in the top flight, which is some going considering all the heartbreak that has been endured in that time. Both Monaghan and Mayo are pretty much even money to win the game on Sunday while the draw is priced at 15/2. I would be more than happy with a draw.