Not for the first time in recent years, today we head into the final round of the League with the threat of relegation hanging over our heads. Quite simply, we need a result of some sorts against Donegal in Ballybofey this afternoon. A win would be great, a draw would be just dandy but the bottom line is that the only way we’ll get to retain our Division One status this evening will be if we avoid defeat at MacCumhaill Park today.
The bit that’s new about this particular NFL relegation denouement is that it involves a meeting of the two teams who are desperately trying to avoid falling into the drop zone along with relegated Kildare when the action is concluded late this afternoon. That will be sure to bring a winner-takes-it-all kind of atmosphere to MacCumhaill Park today, where a huge crowd is expected to assemble to watch the only top tier clash on today that has any consequence in terms of the final result.
There’s plenty resting on that final result today, of course, from the perspective of both camps. Donegal manager Declan Bonner certainly won’t want to have presided over a drop to Division Two in his first year in charge. Similarly, despite our apparent reluctance to ascribe any importance to this year’s League campaign, we’ll have no desire to see our long, long tenure in Division One coming to an end, not least when Roscommon would most likely be heading in the other direction to join Galway in the top flight.
Our task today is far from easy. We’ve never won a competitive game on Donegal soil, having drawn twice and lost five times up there since our first meeting with the O’Donnell County in 1984. And it goes without saying that their home record at MacCumhaill Park, where they’ve an unbeaten run stretching back all the way to 2010, is one we’d be proud to have to our credit.
But whatever happens to us today we can be happy that we head into battle with our fate resting solely in our own hands. We’re not relying on this or that other result coming through from somewhere else to keep us up. If we stay up today we’ll do so by virtue of the sweat of our own brows.
This has been, even by our standards, a poor League campaign. Not just in the win/loss ratio but, more importantly, in how we’ve performed. We stank the place out the last day against Tyrone and it’s of more than a little concern that our best display so far in this year’s League came way back at the end of January in the first round against Monaghan, when half the team that played then were just days back off their holidays.
What’s happened so far to us in this year’s NFL is, though, of no concern heading into today’s match. Stephen Rochford was right when he said after the Tyrone game that today’s match is now “our League final”. It’s a one-off decider, a cup final of sorts, truly a winner-takes-it-all tussle.
That’s what should give us confidence heading to Ballybofey today. Time and again, when this team have been backed into a corner they’ve shown their true mettle, their undoubted battling qualities, their unquenchable will to win. That’s the kind of spirit we’ll need to see from the team today.
With Lee and Cillian out, it’ll be harder to hit those heights. But important and all as they are to us, for players waiting in the wings for a chance to shine this has to be seen as an opportunity, one that now must be grasped. If ever there was a day for new leaders to step forward then this is it.
I’ve no idea how it’ll go today. But I certainly am extremely interested to find out. So interested, in fact, that, contrary to what I was saying earlier in the week, I am after all going to be there. I’ll be on the road north shortly, as many of you no doubt will be too.
Here’s to seeing a rousing display from the lads up in Ballybofey today. Here’s to another top tier great escape act. Safe travelling to all on the roads today. Best of luck to Stephen and the players. Up Mayo.