Friday, July 06, 2007

The championship season starts here

This is it. No more second chances, one more loss and that’s it till the FBD League next January. After the ridiculously long layoff following the defeat in Salthill, we now potentially face an equally mad period of intensive activity . . . but only if we manage to win each tie we face.

If we get through tomorrow, then we’re in the hat on Sunday and back in action the next Saturday. If we win again, we’re back into the hat the night after that and then, depending on which of the losing provincial finalists we draw, we’re playing either the following weekend or the one after. Win again and then it’s a fortnight's break before the quarter-finals, the business end of the championship.

We’ve got at least this far in each of the past three seasons but it’s going to be a hell of a battle – what with the likes of Armagh, Donegal, Meath and Cork possibly barring our way – to make it through to the All-Ireland series this time round. But at least we now know what we have to do to get there – win, win and win again.

We should win – perhaps with some ease – against Cavan tomorrow. Paddy Power certainly thinks we will: we’re on offer at 1/7 and the three previews published to date, on, Hogan Stand and Setanta, all tip us to do it. Cavan in McHale Park: of course we should do it but only if we have learned the lessons we needed to after the trimming we got in Salthill back in May.

Much has been made of the sweeping changes to the team for tomorrow night. A little too much, to my mind. Some changes were inevitable and the injuries suffered by Keith and Super Mac, as well as Enda Devenney’s illness and Kenneth O’Malley’s lack of fitness following a recent injury (not to mention Pat Harte’s suspension) meant that there was always going to have to be a number of changes, no matter what team was being selected.

What was eye-catching, of course, was Johnno’s decision to turf the two Ballagh kids into such pivotal positions and, for good measure, his decision to gamble with Barry Moran at full-forward (that’s assuming he plays there, I’ve heard plenty of opinions to the contrary). But even here, what other choice did he have? Stick with Jimmy Nallen, Chucky and Ger Brady? The simple fact was that changes had to be made and all three central positions were effectively unoccupied (it's the same at full-back – Liam O’Malley is no long-term solution there) so Johnno needed some fresh talent to fill them.

Sure, it’s a gamble but it’s the right match in which to take such a risk. And it’s not totally radical – if he really wanted to wield the knife, the likes of Peadar Gardiner, Alan Dillon and one or two others could have found themselves warming their posteriors on the bench tomorrow evening. What we got was a combination of changes that were enforced and changes that plainly had to be made. The outcome does, I agree, look radical but I don't think that was the motivation behind the changes.

As I said the other day, it’s impossible to know how the new formation will perform but at least we don’t have too long to find out. What we’d all like to see, of course, would be a really compelling performance, one that would announce in no uncertain terms that we’re back in business, that the Summer – despite all the shite weather – has only just begun. I'm certainly looking forward to jumping in the car for the drive West tomorrow and to seeing the lads in action at McHale Park later on in the evening. We've been so thoroughly written off by all and sundry at this stage that it would be just great if we were to provide some compelling evidence tomorrow that we still have a part to play in this year's championship.

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