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It’s been a long wait and it's nearly over. Since Mayo last tasted competitive action almost every other county has been involved in championship action, with Sligo the only side to have not got their summer underway by the time Mayo throw in against Galway on Sunday. This will be the first proper test of the Holmes and Connelly management ticket in the white heat of championship action and they couldn’t have asked for a more traditional joust than a meeting with Galway in their own back yard.
The first weekend of the Mayo GAA senior championship had a little bit of everything including one side lining up their entire 15 players in their own half for the start of the second half of their game, a heroic struggle between Mayo men Aidan O’Shea and Colm Boyle against each other for the pride of the parish, the return of Cillian O’Connor to action for Ballintubber and late, late fight back from Kiltane to break the hearts of Shrule-Glencorrib who made the long trip to Bangor.
And so it begins. The Football championship got underway last weekend as New York became the first team out of the Championship. I know they say as you get older time goes that little bit faster but still it’s extremely hard to get my head around that it’s over a year since Mayo played in New York. It was Galway’s turn this year and as expected they had little trouble in eliminating the emigrants from the Connacht Championship.
I am sure many of you felt as deflated as I did last Sunday. After leaving Elverys MacHale Park deflated I went home to watch the game again on TG4, and just in case I missed anything on second viewing I had to watch Sunday Sport later on that evening to see what the pundits said about the game. The reality is Mayo should be playing in Croke Park this Sunday against Cork in the semifinal of the National League. They threw away the game against Donegal or should I say kicked away. Some wayward shooting late on cost us a place in the semifinal.
When they took over the job of joint Mayo managers, Pat Holmes and Noel Connelly’s first competitive priority would have been to ensure that Mayo maintained their top flight status. With one game to go it looks like the duo will achieve that target, at least unless we ship a serious loss to Donegal and Tyrone overcome Kerry by a handful of points. So a win for Mayo on Sunday will send them into the semi-finals on either Saturday or Sunday week.
The last time Mayo faced Monaghan in the National Football League was four years ago, they lost out to the Ulster men by two points in the village of Inniskeen. Mayo’s visit back then to the home of Patrick Kavanagh gave them plenty of food for thought and set them off on an adventure that would see them reach two All Ireland finals and two All Ireland semi-finals over the next four summers.
Keith Higgins got his tenure as the permanent Mayo captain off to a winning start in Killarney on Sunday, while he was happy to get the points the Ballyhaunis native isn’t getting carried away just yet.
Now it starts to get real. While the championship is the ultimate barometer of success in Gaelic games, a successful league campaign is the foundation stone of what happens in the white heat of summer fare.
Following Mayo's defeat to Roscommon in MacHale Park for the first time since 1986 in the FBD League on Sunday afternoon, it's all eyes on Mayo's next game against Kerry in the opening round of the National Football League on the first Sunday in February. Speaking after the Roscommon game, joint Mayo manager Pat Holmes said that his side have a few injury worries still to clean up ahead of the contest. “Injuries are clearing up and we're hoping that Keith Higgins would be back playing football next weekend. Aidan O'Shea is a wee bit away and Ger Cafferkey has a back strain, so were getting closer to a full panel. We're happy from that point of view” he said. As for the two most experienced outfield players in the panel Andy Moran and Alan Dillon, it will be a bit further into the Spring before we see them in green and red he said, “They will be more long term, they won't be playing football for the next month or so anyway.”
It was a hectic weekend of action in the Mayo GAA Senior Football Championship, with four quarter-finals and one relegation semi-final down for decision, along with a reply in the intermediate championship quarter-finals.