The relief from having escaped from that near-death encounter with Derry last weekend may only be fully subsiding now but there no more time for rest and recovery. The next hurdle facing the county’s footballers in the qualifiers comes later on this afternoon in the shape of Clare. Our Round 3A tie with them throws in at Cusack Park in Ennis at 5pm today.
I’m hitting the road for the Banner County shortly myself. It’s a place I know well, a county I’ve huge fondness for and family connections in, and so it feels like more than a little weird to be facing into battle against them in the championship, for the first time ever as well. Such, I guess, are the joys of taking the back door route.
As I’m tired of saying, every match for us now is a do-or-die one. It’s old-fashioned knockout championship action and, with extra-time to be played in the event of a draw, it’s all but certain that when the music stops at Cusack Park this evening one of the participating counties will have earned its place in Round 4 while the championship race of the other one will be over for the year.
We’ve every right to be confident that it’ll be us in the pot for Round 4 but, equally, we’ve no call whatsoever to be over-confident. Colm Collins has fashioned a team with a strong work ethic and a significant will to win, an outfit that’ll respect us but won’t in the least be fazed by having to face us. On the contrary, they’ll relish taking us on.
These are heady times for the Banner County. Their senior and minor hurlers contest the Munster final at Semple Stadium tomorrow – only the fourth time ever that both have done so in the one year – and their U21 hurlers are also in Munster final action in a few days time. The positive vibes from the small ball fraternity will surely transmit to the footballers this evening, not least through the significant home support that’s apparently readying itself to assemble at Cusack Park.
This makes today’s assignment a tricky one for us and the fact that the game takes place on their home patch makes it more problematic still. Although we’ve played very few qualifier matches on the road (our away tally is played two and lost two), our record in general away from MacHale Park is decent enough. With up to 9,000 of our supporters packed into Cusack Park today – a ground that holds plenty of fond memories for us – it’s not, however, going to feel like we’re stepping into overtly hostile territory.
That should also be the case between the whitewash. This Clare team like to play football and, providing the opposition are up for it, so do we. With the weather forecast good and two teams focused on playing the ball rather than the man it could make for a mini-classic down by the River Fergus.
I think we’ll do it today, but only if we put in the kind of strong, determined performance we know the team can produce but which has rather maddeningly been eluding us of late. We’re not at the business end of the championship just yet but if we want to feature in this year’s shake-up then we have to perform accordingly at Cusack Park today.
And it goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyway) that the same kind of full-throated support the lads were given last Saturday needs to be in evidence once again today. Bring the colour, bring the noise, prepare to lose your voice … all over again.
Right, time to hit the road. Safe travelling all, see you in Ennis later on. We can do this, of course we can. Up Mayo!