This weekend sees Mayo footballers play their first qualifier game since 2010. Five Connacht titles have followed over the next five years, but none have made Mayo For Sam a reality. Now they must prepare for an alternative route.
On our weekly podcast, it has widely been discussed that this qualifier route may be of benefit to Mayo. Why so? Because Mayo have been playing the same teams in the championship too often for the last five years. This offers a totally different perspective on the championship for Mayo.
Mayo will now face different teams if they are to progress to the latter stages of the championship. Instead of continuously facing the likes of Galway, Roscommon and Sligo, they are now being pitted against Fermanagh in the early days of July.
Should they beat Fermanagh, in order to get to a quarter-final they will have to play two further games against different opposition. Obviously they have to win these games, but the challenge in front of them is a big change from what they are used to through Connacht.
The saying suggests that ‘a change is a good as a rest’ and while the challenge is greater is many ways, the freshness of this challenge could turn out to be a real positive for this side. Granted, there are no more second chances, but being forced to play new opponents should really help to get them more focused.
They are no longer preparing to play teams that they know inside out. They are preparing for teams that will throw a whole host of new challenges towards them. This writer sees this as real potential benefit to the Mayo side provided to approach it correctly.
In this route there is zero space for complacency and the players should know this better than anybody. The Green and Red are usually in Croke Park when they lose their safety net, but this time around, they are at home in Castlebar against an up and coming team.
Fermanagh have proven to be dangerous opposition for a lot of teams over the last 18 months. Against Dublin last year, they had a real go and while they did not win, they did show a large degree of confidence in their footballing ability.
In Sean Quigley and Tomás Corrigan they possess two very dangerous forwards who will trouble the best of defences. But in other ways, this could prove to be great preparation if they are to progess. Mayo need to be ready for the challenges of Bernard Brogan, Michael Murphy and James O’Donoghue further down the line.
Fermanagh are a good team on their own merits and could well fancy their chances of giving Mayo a real game this weekend. But from a Mayo perspective, it is great opposition to get themselves back on track.
A mis-match against Division 4 opposition would probably lead to a large margin of victory, but this clash with Fermanagh will require real focus and effort. Mayo will have to play very well to win this game. And if they are to win, they will have another knock-out game coming thick and fast.
The overriding point here is that we feel the backdoor could be the best route for Mayo to win the All-Ireland. The extra competitive do-or-die games should ensure that their concentration levels are right on cue. This first game against Fermanagh is the perfect game for them, provided they win.
This new challenge presented is one that players should relish. It is also good that new management are leading them into this new challenge. It is a new direction for all parties involved and if they go about it in the right way, Mayo For Sam may become a reality after all.