I was out last night and so was spared RTÉ’s coverage of the 2017 provincial championship draws. Sounds like I didn’t miss much.
The first thing to say about the draws – after making the annual observation that they’re on indecently early (though I do understand it’s because of scheduling and all that) – is that it’s good to have something in the future to focus on. Our latest near-miss with Sam gives us a fresh scab to be picking at but now that we can start to think in some kind of tangible way about next summer’s action, the need to look back in despair at how this one got away from us is lessened. Well, a bit anyway.
The draw itself is okay from our perspective. As Connacht draws go, it’s on the tougher side of things, though still a campaign that your average Ulster county would happily accept in a heartbeat. Leaving aside Sligo for the minute, it’s a draw that in all likelihood means we’ll have to make it past both Galway and Roscommon to get our paws back on the Nestor Cup. That’s always a path that’s a bit trickier than outside observers might credit.
For proof of this you only have to go back a few months. After beating London, we had Galway in the semi to take care of before an expected showdown with Division One rivals Roscommon. We all recall well how that one turned out for us.
Next year, we’re faced with the same kind of Connacht campaign, only Galway are now the reigning Connacht champions and this time we have to go to Salthill. Once again the Rossies have the handy side of the draw and it’d be a major upset – notwithstanding the Sheepstealers’ proclivity for turning the easiest task in the championship into hard work – if they don’t make the final.
This year we came into the provincial campaign in a lackadaisical mindset and paid for this by getting shunted off into the qualifiers. The way things turned out, this did us no harm at all – those two qualifier games in MacHale Park were two of my favourite Mayo GAA days of the year – but it’s not a road we’d want to be taking every year all the same.
This year we played a total of nine championship games. Ignoring the possibility of replays, a front door campaign all the way to September next year would involve just six outings. Much and all as we enjoy seeing the lads in action regularly over the summer, it’s obvious that the scenic route isn’t the optimum one to be aiming for.
Winning back the Connacht title next year won’t be a gimme for us but we’ll head into 2017 as deserved favourites to do so. Last night’s draw confirms that we’ll need to be better prepped for Connacht than we were this year but the lame way we lost to Galway last June should give us every incentive to do ourselves justice within the province next year.
Assuming we do this, winning back the Nestor Cup should also mean that we hit Croke Park in August in the right mindset for the major battles that’ll then be facing us. For now, though, those possible tests lie once again in the far distance and it’s the local stuff we’ll need to concentrate on first once a new year of football gets underway for us. First on the list for us, then, is Sligo so let’s see how that one goes and take it from there.