Our second match in this year’s National Football League match takes place tonight. Kerry are the visitors to MacHale Park and a big crowd is expected to gather at the Castlebar venue for our first competitive match of the year on home soil. Throw-in is set for 7pm this evening.
Both counties made good starts to their respective League campaigns last Sunday. There was some similarity as regards how we both got on, with both of us notching late points to win by the minimum margin, though the matches themselves were very different in nature. It was an undiluted shootout down in Killarney, whereas our game in Clones was tight and cagey.
Kerry are set to arrive in Castlebar this evening with a very inexperienced match-day 26. They’ve no choice but to do so, as so many of last year’s panel are injured or otherwise unavailable, and so youth is set to be given its head by Eamon Fitzmaurice and his selectors for the second League match in a row.
Of their starting fifteen for tonight, only five players – Shane Enright, Jack Barry, Paul Murphy, Paul Geaney and Stephen O’Brien – played any part in last year’s All-Ireland semi-final replay against us. By contrast, we’ve seven starters from that game last August in our first fifteen, with three more of tonight’s team having come off the bench that day too. In all, twelve of our team have tasted action on All-Ireland final day at some point since 2012, some of them a number of times.
So we have them on experience and we have home advantage too. Neither factor, however, guarantees success.
Our home record is, at best, modest and we’re some way from turning MacHale Park into a fortress venture that opposing teams dislike visiting. The Kerry lads might not be all that impressed with the place tonight – in particular the playing surface – but they certainly won’t turn up quaking in their boots when faced with the stats on our home record.
Their line-up may be a fairly callow one but it needs to be recalled that most – if not all – of the young lads being drafted in are minor All-Ireland winners in recent years. David Clifford is the star turn in this respect but the others are there on merit too. No matter what age you are you need to be a decent player to be handed a county jersey (which tonight is the new Paul Galvin-designed away one) by Kerry. All of which means we underestimate them in tonight’s fixture at our peril.
Our performance in Clones the last day was rusty enough – victory always masks the worst of any team’s failings – so we’ll need to put in an improved showing tonight if we’re to make it four points from two games in this campaign. That has to be the aim tonight.
Too often we fail to drive home the advantages we frequently enjoy over the opposition. It would be great if this weren’t the case tonight and that instead we make full use of our home venue – with the big home support – and all our big match know-how to secure a decisive result in this one.
I’m still up in the capital myself right now and have a few things to sort this morning before hitting the road for the west. It’s my aim, though, to be at MacHale Park at least an hour ahead of this evening’s throw-in. You can’t beat a Saturday evening match under the lights for atmosphere at this time of year.
Safe travelling to all today. Here’s to a continuation tonight of our recent good run against the Kingdom. Up Mayo.