Okay boys and girls, today’s the day: our first proper championship match in over ten months. Is it any wonder we’re all as pumped as we are, having had to wait so long for the serious stuff to start again (and, when it does, hoping that it won’t be over too soon either)? It’s as bad as waiting for Santie but today it’s not Santie that’s heading our way, it’s the Sheepstealers and instead of leaving gifts for us, the hoors want to do another smash-and-grab on us like the one they last did in McHale Park back in 1986.
I’ve hours behind the wheel today and so this means I’ll have plenty of time while on the road thinking about the match (on the way down anticipating what might happen and then, on the return leg, ruminating on what actually did). Because I need to head off before too long, however, I don’t have a whole load of time to set down anything in the way of considered thoughts here.
How do I think we’ll do? Well, if we play to our potential, we’ll definitely win, possibly by a big enough margin. But, for that to happen, we need to see the same tightness we showed during much of the league at the back, win midfield (something we hardly did at all in the league) and see the lads cut loose up front in a manner they haven’t done for quite a while.
If this happy scenario is to come to pass, then a good start is, I think, vital. We’ve ample evidence from the spring campaign – not to mention the opening fifteen minutes in Gaelic Park – of our propensity to start matches by, well, not starting matches. It’s all good and well letting the likes of New York hit you with four unanswered points right from the off but the last thing we need to do is to allow the Rossies the same kind of space to land a few early blows on us. Recall 1986: although they may have killed us off with two injury time points that day, it was Tony Mc’s goal right at the start that knocked us back on our arses that day and we never really recovered from that shock. If we let the 2009 Sheepstealers do the same, we could quite possibly find ourselves staring at a similar result later on today.
The visitors come into this one with loads in their favour – the crazy match odds, the fact that they’re under no pressure to win, the morale boost they got from winning up in Carrick and the astute management of Fergie O’Donnell. We can expect them to hit us with gay abandon from the off and to shoot on sight, a policy that’ll be aided by the fact that they have a fair few gents – such as Cox, Devaney and Kilbride – who are well able to do so. But if we get in amongst them and claim the middle third right from the throw-in, I think we can really punish them. No more than the next man, I’d love to see plenty of high ball into the Twin Towers (not least because I have, over the years, had to sit through so many matches where this kind of ball was being constantly lamped into the likes of Tom Reilly and David Nestor) but we’ve other options to rip them open with too, such as the rapier thrusts of Alan Dillon and the express train that Pat Harte can be, as he comes steaming through the middle on the hard ground. And, like so many other Mayo supporters, I’d love to see Killer make hay as well – he was probably our most exciting prospect back in 2006 and today would be an excellent day for him to remind the wider world about what he can do.
As well as this, we have the likes of Conor and Tom Parsons on the bench, as well as (one assumes) other battle-hardened options such as BJ and the sometimes mercurial Austie. Indeed, if you look at all the players we have at our disposal today, you’d have to think we have more than enough talent to keep the neighbours under wraps in this one.
A fair bit would have to go wrong, I think, for us to lose today. Comparisons are being made with the Donegal-Antrim result last weekend and that’s fair enough, although I think such a correlation is a bit wide of the mark. Sure, if we shoot as many wides as Donegal did and suffer the same injustice at the hands of the ref that they did, we might lose too. But, unlike ’86, Mickey Kearins isn’t reffing this one and, although I wouldn’t expect any favours off Brian Crowe (he did more than enough for us in the 2006 All-Ireland final, the poor soul, on a day when we could do precious little to help ourselves) I’d say he’ll give us a fair enough shake. Sure, shit could happen today and we could lose but I’m not convinced we will.
Like the Spailpin, I have a bit of a soft spot for the Sheepstealers so I wouldn’t take any gratuitous pleasure were we to beat the living daylights out of them this evening. But this is the championship so I wouldn’t be all that unhappy either were such an outcome to happen. It’s been a long time since we started a championship campaign with a real bang – it’s been five years, in fact, and I’m ignoring the New York game that year as well to make this point – and it would make up for some of the disappointment of the last two summers were we to do so today. I think there’s a chance we might just do this.
I’ll be twittering at the game later on, as will a few others who’ll also be using the #mayogaa tag so, if you get bored with the live coverage on the box, you can follow the action there and, indeed, if the mood takes you, you can join in with your own take on the unfolding events. I’m also planning on doing a post-match audio piece right after the final whistle (if I have any voice left) and this will also appear as a Twitter update on the site as soon as I’ve uploaded it. Then, once I get back to base here in Dublin, I’ll get the usual match report done. Match-day sure wasn’t as complicated as this back in 1986!
Till afterwards, amigos.