The pandemic is still with us – very much so, Marty, as Martin Carney would say – but we’re getting ever closer to the date when inter-county football is set to resume.
It’s certainly a weird year in footballing terms, as it is for pretty much every aspect of life right now. Over the next four weeks, while the leaves are falling from the trees and the dark nights close in ever faster, we’ll be playing out what’s left of our spring National League campaign before then getting stuck into the Connacht Championship straight away afterwards. That comes with added piquancy, of course, this year as it has reverted to a straight knockout format.
This day fortnight, our pivotal National League Division One clash with Galway takes place in Tuam. Galway have the opportunity both to relegate us then and give us a bloody nose ahead of a possible Connacht final rematch in November.
That’s if we make the decider, of course, something we haven’t done since 2015. With the defending Connacht champions barring the way at the semi-final stage, reaching the provincial final isn’t something that can be taken for granted either. Nor for that matter should Leitrim, whom we face first, though we’ll be raging hot favourites to win that game in Carrick-on-Shannon four weeks from today.
The report by the Western People (here) on yesterday’s challenge match with Donegal at Markievicz Park was interesting. We’re obviously ramping up our preparations for the challenges that lie ahead and, as that match report observes, there was very little experimentation in terms of the team we fielded.
When you think about it, James Horan was faced with two choices as regards playing personnel for the autumn/winter campaign. He could have thrown caution to the wind and gone with players in form from the club Championships – regardless of whether or not they had featured at inter-county level before – or he could have taken the more risk-averse approach of sticking in the main with the players he’d already used. It’s no real surprise that he appears to have gone with the latter.
That option, of course, isn’t simply a case of the same old faces continuing to represent the county. Oisín Mullin, Eoghan McLaughlin, Tommy Conroy and Ryan O’Donoghue (who didn’t play yesterday) all made their Senior debuts this year, while Mattie Ruane and Fionn McDonagh are additions from last year.
A few newer faces might well force their way into the reckoning over the coming weeks too. Mark Moran, who played yesterday, is a good addition and Knockmore’s Darren McHale could well be another. As Mike Finnerty reported in this week’s Mayo News (here) both were invited to join the Senior panel following the conclusion of the club action.
It’s also true that the enforced downtime arising from Covid has helped us to get a number of injured players back to full fitness. Colm Boyle, Jason Doherty, Mattie Ruane and Cillian O’Connor were all sidelined back in March but all four of them lined out in yesterday’s challenge match.
The one regular we’re missing – in all probability for the year – is Brendan Harrison. As Mike Finnerty notes in that Mayo News piece linked above, the Aghamore man, an All-Star in 2017, picked up a knock in a club game back in July and he’s been sidelined since then.
The other player mentioned as an injury concern in that piece, by the way, was Diarmuid O’Connor but he did line out yesterday. The 2019 captain hasn’t been firing on all cylinders at inter-county level for a long time and we’ll need him back in top form if we’re to navigate successfully the perilous waters of the upcoming one-loss-and-you’re-gone Championship campaign.