Two huge games facing us this weekend

Photo: @MayoGAA

It may only be the start of February but this coming weekend is a big one for the county in footballing terms. We’ve two hugely important games scheduled for the weekend and, while the result of either isn’t going to be decisive in setting the trajectory for us in 2020, at the same time they’re both matches we simply have to win.

The first one is on at MacHale Park on Saturday. There, at 2pm, the county’s U20 footballers take on Connacht champions Galway in the quarter-final of this year’s U20 provincial Championship.

The U20 Championship has been shifted to early spring this year and the entire thing will be run off before the end of March. It’s the old-fashioned, straight knockout format so, barring a draw, either ourselves or Galway will see our U20 season end this Saturday.

We’ve had a productive lead-in to this year’s U20 Championship, having won the Leo Murphy Cup a few weeks back. Oisin Mullin – who has broken into the first fifteen at Senior level this year – will also be with the U20s this weekend and he’s one of five players Ger Flanagan listed in a piece in this week’s Mayo News as ones to watch – that’s here.

Galway have had the hex on us at underage for some time now,though, and they had a relatively easy win over us at U20 last year when we met in the Connacht final in July. As Ger Flanagan points out in his match preview for the Mayo News (paper and digital versions), we haven’t beaten Galway at this grade (formerly U21) in the Championship since way back in 2012 so a victory over them on Saturday would be as welcome as it’s overdue.

The young Tribesmen are sure to be a tough proposition, though, as Ger points out in his match preview, the shift from U18 to U17 at Minor level in 2018 meant that this crop of U20 players never got to play each other in Minor Championship. That means they’ll face each other on Saturday without any prior form at Minor level to go on.

Hopefully that factor will help us upset the odds at MacHale Park on Saturday. Good luck to the lads then.

The following afternoon, meanwhile, we have a rather novel outing in the National League. It’s seventeen years since we last played Meath in the NFL at Páirc Tailteann, with the home side coming out on top that March day in 2003 at Navan by 1-16 to 0-12.

The Royals were relegated from the top division in 2006 and this year is their first season back in Division One since then. They’re propping up the table after two rounds, having lost to both Tyrone and Donegal, while we’re sitting precariously just one place above them, a solitary point to our name after two games.

Already shorn of several regulars, we’ll most likely be down three of the starting fifteen from the Dublin game the next day. Jordan Flynn is suspended while Oisin Mullin is – quite rightly – rostered with the U20s this weekend. Colm Boyle hasn’t been confirmed as a definite absentee but I’d be doubtful that his knee will have recovered sufficiently to enable him to line out on Sunday.

It’s a testament to how well Oisin has bedded in at Senior level that we know we’ll miss him against Meath. An obvious replacement, though, is Eoin O’Donoghue, a player who enjoyed a standout League campaign for us in 2108 but who was used only sparingly by James Horan last year. James Stretton and James McCormack would also be options at the back for us, as would Keith Higgins if he’s fit to play.

Lee Keegan, with a full half of match practice under his belt now, is likely to start in Navan, having replaced Boyler at half-time the last night. We’ve a number of options to replace Jordan Flynn, including Conor Loftus, Bryan Walsh and others.

Meath have player issues of their own, with main scoring threat Mickey Newman out for the League and goalkeeping issues that puts our travails in relation to that position firmly into the ha’penny place.

The ref for Sunday, by the way, is Sean Hurson of Tyrone. We saw him most recently on that scorching afternoon down in Killarney last July when we lost to Kerry in the Super 8s.

The weather is set to be very different in Navan on Sunday and it’s not set to be all that hectic in Castlebar on Saturday either. Very wet and very windy would appear to be the order of the day both days.

That’s likely to mean a large travelling contingent banging at the door in Páirc Tailteann early on Sunday, well before the 2pm throw-in time. It’s been a while since I was last in Navan – Vinnies played a Leinster club final there in, I think, 2014 – and, from memory, the stand isn’t the biggest nor is it the most modern either. By the sounds of that forecast, though, the stand is the only sensible option as it certainly won’t be a day for reclining on the bucolic grassy banks that rise behind both ends of the ground.

Sunday’s match is a real crunch one for us in this League campaign. Although we’ve seen a few promising performances from some of the players – especially the newbies – all we’ve to show for our efforts is that plundered point we came away from Ballybofey with.

To be honest, this is a match we simply have to win if we’re aiming to stay in the top division. A victory in Navan will send us on to the Monaghan game two weeks afterwards in good spirits so it’s vital we get the result we need this Sunday.

32 thoughts on “Two huge games facing us this weekend

  1. I think we’re favourites with Meath to go down – this is a must win, made worse by Monaghan beating Tyrone.

    When you look back we put in a decent performance against Dublin. I think Conroy needs to start the next day – I think we can all agree that the FF line is the biggest area of concern for the year ahead.

    One thing must happen in this game – it must be clear who the free taker is. Last weekend there didn’t appear to be any real strategy on this and it cost us some very kickeable points.

  2. Great piece.
    Must win game is right. We have looked bereft of a clear game plan in the last 2 games.
    The free taking situation is a joke. With all due respect to James Durcan he doesn’t take them for the club never mind the county. I feel Brian Reape deserves another chance. He was on fire against Galway and did reasonably well against Donegal.
    We need a convincing, morale boosting, momentum building win to kick start our year.

  3. Mullin will be a loss on Sunday, which demonstrates the impact he’s had in such a short space of time. Would be great if Higgins/O’Donoghue could slot back in there on Sunday if required. This is an important stage of our league campaign so experience is vital.

    We have some options in terms of replacing Flynn. We could move Tom Parsons into midfield and place Aidan on the 40, or we could start McLoughlin.

    Weather forecast for the game is just horrendous.

  4. Team named per the Mayo gaa website

    Mayo will look to get back to winning ways when they travel to Navan to face Meath on Sunday at 2pm.

    The team named shows three changes from last weekend’s loss to Dublin with James McCormack, Eoin O’Donoghue & Tommy Conroy all starting. The players to miss out are Oisin Mullin, Colm Boyle & Jordan Flynn.

    1. Robert Hennelly – Breaffy
    2. Padraig O’Hora – Ballina Stephenites
    3. James McCormack – Claremorris
    4. Brendan Harrison – Aghamore
    5. Eoin O’Donoghue – Belmullet
    6. Michael Plunkett – Ballintubber
    7. Patrick Durcan – Castlebar Mitchels
    8. Stephen Coen – Hollymount/Carramore (C)
    9. Diarmuid O’Connor – Ballintubber
    10. Fergal Boland – Aghamore
    11. Ryan O’Donoghue – Belmullet
    12. James Durcan – Castlebar Mitchels
    13. Tommy Conroy – The Neale
    14. James Carr – Ardagh
    15. Kevin McLoughlin – Knockmore

  5. Great to see Tommy Conroy getting his first start. Exciting times. Are there any other Neale players fit for the county team?

  6. You’re right there DoneDeal, I’d lifted that straight from the MayoGAA website. They probably should have corrected it to say changes from the team named to start last weekend.

  7. And he may not start again this weekend, Aidan will start so someone will lose out. The loser on Sunday will be relegated so big match.
    Again there is no recognised free taker starting, probably the only team in the league where who’s going to take the Free’s is an afterthought, bizarre really.

  8. Sinabhuil
    The only other players from the Neale that could have deserved a shot were Sully and Walsh. Sweeney has the potential as does Feerick but both are very young yet

  9. Very young team apart from Robbie & Kev Mac. Experience on the line if needed. Looks like Diarmid will be on the frees…assuming we get any.

  10. Fair play to JH . He is using the league to blood new players. Pretty inexperienced team but hopefully good enough for Meath . Really need a win here to hopefully stay up but personally wouldn’t care if we were relegated if we had a really strong team with good subs to come on come championship.

  11. Puckout, with 4 games remaining after Sunday, the loser will neither be relegated or safe. Still all to play for regardless of the result. I confident of a result on Sunday and can see us beating Tyrone, Monaghan and Galway. Talk of Relegation is very premature at this stage.

    My Ball, I have said in the past that relegation wouldn’t be the end of the world, but that was when we had an established team of seasoned players. However currently with so many new players in the panel, it is vital we stay up so these players are exposed to the best teams in the country. There is a massive difference between div 1 and 2.

  12. I’m not sure Mayomad, we lose Sunday we have to win at least 2 of the 4 to survive. Plus if we lose to Meath confidence will drop and pressure rise! But we will win Sunday!

  13. MayoLetsFly – I’m fairly sure the Roscommon league game last year was during a yellow warning. It was basically impossible to score into one goal!

  14. Agree with Mayomad, all to play for at this stage. Also we have performed well so far and played the two hardest teams.

    I know Kerry to come but Donegal and the dubs have been the form teams so far.

  15. Pairc Tailtean is probably one of the best pitch surfaces in the country but it is cold & bleak on the terrace . Game will go ahead.

  16. The wind and rain that day in McHale park was biblical 🙂

    On another note, great to see the experimentation continue. Best of luck to Tommy Conroy on his first start too

  17. I also think the loser of this game is relegated. A win here would be massive for survival, so long as Dublin beat Monaghan, and Donegal beat Galway.

    Id usually commend Horan for such a youthful team, but he’s taking a serious gamble if this is the team that starts. Id like to see Higgins, Lee, Aido and McGloughlin all on from the start. We’ve flirted with relegation for so many years, with the last kick of the game keeping us up more than once. We cannot keep putting in ourselves in that position.

  18. Weather forecast is atrocious. Will be a great leveller. It’s probably a day for tho old dogs and war horses but when Ilook at that team it’s mostly foals and pups I see. Expect a difficult match in every sense, weather, opposition and old scores to settle dating back 24 years not the mention how crucial the two points are. No place for the faint hearted but very best of wishes to our team.

  19. Flynn’s strength is going to be a big loss on Sunday. Meath will drag this game into an ugly dogfight in the wind and rain. They will be up for this one. Free taker issue set to rumble on and could quite possibly end up costing us the game. A critical juncture regarding our Div 1 survival.

  20. Is Liam Irwin on the panel or is her injured? Was hoping to see him make some sort of an impact this year

  21. Backdoorsam,
    It’s a bit early to be expecting Liam Irwin to be togging with the seniors. He is only 18 sometime this year [U17 last year]. I would expect to see his brother play senior before him, age 23, minor [U18] in 2015, if I’m not mistaken.

  22. You’re talking about the 2 Irwins from Ballina AndyD. Backdoorsam is talking about Liam Irwin Breaffy.

  23. Think your mixing up your Irwin AndyD. Liam was one of the 2016 U21’s.

    Don’t think aido will start, he’s clearly not 100%. Think we’ll have an experienced bench to call on if need be. Frees will be a lottery in that wind and will have a much better chance of going over if struck from the ground so I think it will be left to Diarmuid. It won’t be pretty but I’m confident of a result.

  24. I believe Andyd is speaking of Frank Irwin Ballina currently on the Mayo U20 panel and still playing with secondary school football with St Muredachs, and Jack Irwin Ballina midfielder who was a mayo minor in 2015. Liam Irwin Breaffy on the otherhand won All lreland minor in 2013 and U21 IN 2016. LLiam togged and came on against Galway in the FBD game but needs to get into better shape the type of training and fitness that doesn’t happen overnight. Come summer he may be a different player if he gets his head into it.

  25. Yes I’m talking about Liam from Breaffy the Irwins in Ballina are sons of Former Mayo goalie Gabriel Irwin if I’m not mistaken

  26. Thank you for your reply Wide Ball. It will be very challenging to play in those conditions and could go against us in unfamiliar ground. This game is a must win.

  27. Playing Meath in Navan on a wild and windy day with a young and inexperienced team is definitely a gamble and the risks are high, including possible relegation. But this is exactly what we need right now. The young players need to get the opportunity to play in exactly such a contest. We need to know if they are good enough to withstand the intense pressure that might come their way in the summer.

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