Tonight’s match under the lights at Pairc Ui Rinn represents an important test for Johnno’s developing Mayo. Home advantage, Cork’s apparent greater need for the points on offer, our lengthening injury list (which is now approaching alarming levels), the ridiculous travel arrangements the lads have to endure today and, possibly, the home side’s regular exposure to playing matches such as this one under lights, all indicate that a win for Cork could be on the cards. At least that’s what RTE, Setanta and the Irish Times all think so Johnno is right to be cautious about our chances. Paddy Power also agrees with this assessment, with the Rebels quoted at 10/11 to win, while Mayo are available at 6/5.
It has all the indications that we could be in for a tough evening. If Cork tear into us the way Fermanagh did and hit us with a few early scores, we could be in real bother. We’re weak at midfield – although David Heaney should do better there than James Nallen did the last day – and so if Cork win lots of ball - which they should with their pairing of Murphy and Kavanagh - and move it quickly inside, they could punish us fairly hard. If midfield becomes the problem I think it might, then the temptation will be to handpass our way from one end of the pitch to the other, which, as the Clones match showed (and common sense would suggest), is not a sensible tactic for a game played in March. At least the weather should be okay tonight compared to Clones and the pitch cannot be as bad as St Tiernach's Park was but a short-passing game would, I fear, still be a route to nowhere for us.
On a limited supply of ball, economy of effort is likely to be very important tonight. We kicked a fair few wides in the first half in Clones but were far tighter in the second half, picking off scores with isolated attacks while Fermanagh were wasting plenty of chances at the other end. I wouldn’t expect Cork to be as wasteful as Fermanagh were (they haven’t that great widester Tom Brewer playing for them, for starters, and they do have James Masters) which means that our lads will have to make even better use of whatever ball they get. This is, I know, a tall order.
It’s an important match for the two Aidans – Campbell and Kilcoyne – who both experienced victory over Cork in last year’s U21 All-Ireland final. We’ll need a few scores from both lads if we’re going to have any hope of taking something from the game. Alan Dillon and Ger Brady will have to put in improved performances and, needless to say, we’ll need all the points that Conor is able to poach. Andy Moran will also need to put in yet another tireless 70 minutes, most likely further out the field than where he's been named in the starting lineup. Johnno still has to figure out what formation works best for the players he has – a two-man full-forward line comprising Conor and Alan Dillon doesn’t rock my boat, I have to admit, especially if high ball is being sent into them.
The sideline will be enormously important tonight as well, especially before the lads take the field. Johnno needs to get it into the players’ heads that any notion that Cork have a greater need of the points is just rubbish. If we want to make the playoffs – a reasonable target to aim at, I would have thought – then we need to win not only tonight’s match but next Sunday’s home clash with the Dubs as well. So, any thoughts that this is a “must win” for Cork but merely a “nice to win” for us - a suggestion made by a contributor to Mayofans.com the other day - have to be nipped in the bud. Johnno could do worse than take a leaf from the book of that celebrated Corkonian, Roy Keane, who this week questioned the motivation and will to win of the Irish soccer team in fairly trenchant terms. I hope Roy isn’t using the weekend off to psyche up his county’s Gaelic football team!
Finally, a reminder that the match is live on TV on Setanta Ireland tonight, for all those in the land of cable (in particular, that of NTL) and for those who subscribe to the channel on Sky. Radio commentary is, of course, also available on MWR.