The lads – and the ladies – are back in League action tonight. The ladies get the ball rolling this evening at Croke Park when they take on Dublin at 5pm while the lads lock horns with the four-in-a-row All-Ireland champions at 7pm.
It’s good to be back at Croke Park. The last time the lads played there was the 2017 All-Ireland final, as our early exit in the qualifiers last summer meant we never got the chance to appear at HQ then.
This outing, though, is just a League one in early springtime. It won’t be until we battle our way back to Croke Park in the championship that we can say we’re once again supping at the top table. For now, that just remains an ambition for us.
And while it’s the All-Ireland champions Dublin we’re up against at HQ this evening, they don’t represent the same kind of totemic opposition that they did in those shuddering Sam Maguire deciders in 2016 and 2017. They’re not long back training this year, they have several players still to return to action and this is far from a die-in-the-ditch contest.
That said, it is a game both counties have a keen desire to win. Dublin, clearly, would like to keep us under their thumb, a place – despite all our great battles with them – they’ve consigned us to ever since Jim Gavin became their manager. He’ll have no desire to see James Horan leave Croke Park tonight with a first victory for the county over Dublin since 2012 under his belt.
The inverse is, of course, true for us as well. We’ve made a great start to this year’s League but we know that the three wins we’ve racked up were against the weakest teams in the Division. Dublin – regardless of who lines out for them tonight – represent a much tougher test for James Horan’s improving side and victory over them would provide validation that we’re moving in the right direction.
I’ve no idea, I must admit, as to whether or not we will win tonight. My heart almost always says Yes ahead of matches involving us but I’m long enough watching games between ourselves and Dublin to know who tends to come out on top most often. The 1/3 odds on Dublin are there for a reason: they’re huge favourites to win tonight and win they should.
And yet our cause tonight is far from hopeless. While we’ve struggled to get any kind of expansive game going on our stodgy and cramped home ground, the display we put on in Omagh showed we’re well capable of having a cut on a pitch that favours greater pace and movement. A place, in other words, like Croke Park.
If we take the game to Dublin this evening and really go after them we could be in for a proper contest. While neither side will want to give it everything – it’s still only late February, after all – neither will want to back down from the challenge either.
The bottom line for us tonight is that we aim to be competitive from start to finish, regardless of how many of the young lads see action. If the newbies flourish then it’ll be a good night regardless of the result, if they go well and we get the win then that would really be great.
The best of luck to James and the lads tonight and good luck as well to Peter Leahy and the ladies team. Let’s win them both. Up Mayo.