It’s game day. And a big one – a match that’ll either provide us with our ticket for next weekend’s All-Ireland semi-final or else will end our inter-county year. Everything is on the line this evening at MacHale Park in Castlebar where Meath’s David Gough will be throwing the ball in at 6pm.
As I mentioned yesterday, it’s set to be a major occasion at MacHale Park this evening. A shuddering showdown between two counties that straddle the western seaboard, for a change a match that’s being played in the west as well.
The fact that it’s being played at home should, all other things being equal, count as an advantage for us. While our poor home record at the venue would suggest that this isn’t the case, it shouldn’t be forgotten that this year we’ve rediscovered how to win some games there.
True, both Galway and Roscommon got the better of us in Castlebar this year but we won the other four matches we’ve played there. It’s far from a fortress for us but neither is it the millstone around our neck that it seemed at the outset of 2019.
It’s also the case that we’ve a good track record against Donegal. This is true both in general and in particular in relation to meetings – all in the League admittedly – at MacHale Park.
The last time Donegal beat us was in the League at Ballybofey in 2016 and, of course, the most recent time they bettered us in the Championship was in the 2012 All-Ireland final.
We’ve beaten them twice in the summer since then, crushing them in the All-Ireland quarter-final of 2013 and outsmarting them deliciously at the same stage in 2015.
Donegal have yo-yoed a bit between the top two NFL divisions in recent years so we’ve only played them three times this decade at MacHale Park. We won in both 2013 and 2017 while the 2015 meeting was drawn. It should be noted in passing, however, that a draw is all Donegal need out of today’s encounter while we’ve no choice but to go balls-in for victory.
As I conceded yesterday, Donegal are deserved favourites heading into this match, for the simple reason that they’re one of the form teams this summer. They’ll be bloody hard to beat this evening.
But this is knockout Championship football, a match played on our home turf, where our grizzled fighters see the chance of making it to another All-Ireland semi-final and, almost certainly, another meeting with Dublin. We’ll be bloody hard to beat this evening too.
While our form out on the pitch at home hasn’t always been top quality, I think we can, as fans, all readily concede that it hasn’t been too hot in the supporting stakes either. In fact, it’s not too much of a stretch to claim that the real millstone around the team’s neck in Castlebar is playing in front of that huge but often overly timid and too-quiet crowd, many of whom appear to think that it would be somehow mortifying to roar, shout and generally act like supporters should.
Be in no doubt, though – there’s absolutely no room for such pusillanimity amongst our supporters this evening. Donegal are going to bring a big raucous following with them to MacHale Park but they need to know, from first roar to last, whose place this is and whose shout is loudest. That absolutely has to be ours.
I know, I know – it’s all fine for me to say this, given that my shout won’t be heard at MacHale Park this evening. That’s true but that’s just one voice. We’ll have more support there than they will and the lads out on the field need to hear this, from first ball to last.
If that’s what they do hear, then it provides them with the perfect platform to put on a performance. And I think we can expect them to do just that. As I said earlier, I think we’ll be bloody hard to beat this evening.
Safe travelling to all heading to this evening’s game. Keep those vocal chords lubricated in the hours leading up to throw-in and then prepare for a good two days of hoarse croaking afterwards.
I’ll be following all the action from here but Tom has once again kindly stepped into the hot seat for the match report later so watch out for that.
Best of luck to James and the lads this evening. Let’s get this done, people. Up Mayo.