It’s the first day of November and it’s also the day we finally get to play our first game in this year’s Championship. Such is life in this pandemic era we’re all living through.
Today’s match is a Connacht SFC quarter-final against Leitrim at Páirc Seán MacDiarmada in Carrick-on-Shannon where throw-in is set for 1.15pm. Paul Faloon of Down is the ref for this behind-closed-doors contest, which is being broadcast live on RTÉ’s News Now channel.
The two teams contesting this game are doing so for the right to face provincial champions Roscommon in the Connacht semi-final next weekend. For one of them today will be both their first and last appearance in this year’s Championship. This tournament – as Monaghan found out yesterday – is a straight knockout one, so one slip and you’re gone, your inter-county year over.
The reversion to the pre-2001 format this year means it’s a far more compact competition than in recent years. Here’s a fun fact, though – the last time our paths crossed with Leitrim in the Championship, back in 2012, our campaign comprised five games. (Remember James Horan then? Game 3, Game 4, Game 5). If we get to contest this year’s All-Ireland final – and I’m not saying we will – we’ll have played five games in this Championship as well.
But, of course, because it’s knockout football we’re playing, it makes no sense to think about any game but the one facing us. Forget about a potential meeting with Galway in the Connacht final, don’t concern yourselves either with the fact that, should we prevail today, it’s Roscommon next for us in a week’s time. Today all that matters is Leitrim and our need to clear this opening hurdle within the province.
We’ve opted to go with a very experimental line-up today, with Championship debuts being handed to seven players. I can’t recall when we last sent out such a callow line-up to battle in the Championship and it’s certainly the case that this is the youngest Mayo fifteen we’ve named in a Championship game for a very long time. The very best to all seven lads making their first Championship starts for us today.
Despite the lack of experience in our ranks, we should still have enough to handle Leitrim this afternoon. They, like us, suffered League relegation last weekend so they’re not coming into this game with any kind of momentum. If we play anywhere near our potential we should have more than enough capability to win this one with a bit to spare.
Our most recent Championship meeting at today’s venue should, though, give us at least some pause for thought. We were heavily fancied to win back in 2006 too and we did, but only after suffering near heart failure as we collapsed over the line one-point victors.
Although we ended up getting demoted from Division One last Sunday, our form over the final two rounds of League action points to a number of positives. While our defensive structure – or lack of it – is a worry and our midfield has left heft than we’ve had in that sector over the last decade, we’ve way more pace in the team now compared to recent years. That has given the offensive side of our play added potency and I’d expect what we have in that department to be more than enough to see us home today.
It’ll be a strange experience for so many this afternoon, forced as we all are to watch this Championship contest from the couch. But in these Covid times, that’s the way it has to be as otherwise there would have been no Championship action to see at all this year.
The upside is a less hectic few hours ahead of throw-in today. So settle in, make yourselves comfortable and get ready to roar at the TV once the ball is thrown in at Carrick. Here’s hoping we have plenty to cheer about, here’s to the right result. Up Mayo.