FROM THE ARCHIVES Mayo’s Donie Vaughan tackles Armagh’s Paul Duffy during the 2012 National League clash between the teams at the Athletic Grounds. Pic: Sportsfile
NEW Mayo manager Kevin McStay couldn’t have asked for a more difficult assignment for his first ‘away day’ in the National League.
In fact, it’s McStay’s first time to venture outside the county for a competitive game in any competition after playing some pre-season games in Mayo and welcoming Galway to Castlebar last weekend.
So a trip to the Athletic Grounds in Armagh city to face the team that Kieran McGeeney has been painstakingly building over the last eight seasons will be an excellent opportunity to measure Mayo’s progress.
Armagh lost an All-Ireland quarter-final to Galway on penalties last summer and got their Division 1 league campaign off to a winning start against Monaghan last weekend.
Armagh are notoriously hard to beat at home, so Mayo will have to be at their best to keep their recent unbeaten run going.
They will most likely be togging most of the same players again in their match-day squad of 26 with injuries to Rob Hennelly and Paddy Durcan likely to keep them out of action until at least the third round clash with Kerry on Saturday, February 18.
That is also the date that is being targetted for Tommy Conroy’s return, according to Kevin McStay’s latest update on The Neale attacker.
“He’s very close. If I had a penny for every time I was asked about Tommy Conroy, I’d be a happy man,” he added with a smile last weekend.
Armagh and Mayo’s most recent history goes back to 1979.
They have met 15 times in the National League over the last 40-odd years, with the Orchard County leading the ‘head-to-head’ count 8-5. There have been two draws.
But their most recent meetings have gone Mayo’s way with last year’s National League win at Dr Hyde Park in Roscommon (0-15 to 1-10) preceded by an All-Ireland SFC Round 3 Qualifier victory in Castlebar in June of 2019 (2-13 to 1-15).
If you rewind back to 2012, for Mayo’s last visit to the Athletic Grounds, James Horan’s team came out on top in a Division 1 league match by 1-14 to 0-11 with a full-forwardline of Conor Mortimer (0-4), Andy Moran (1-0) and Enda Varley (0-4) doing most of the scoring damage. Alan Freeman also chipped in with five points.
But that was then and this is now.
Speaking after last weekend’s first round games, Kevin McStay and Armagh selector, Kieran Donaghy, were hitting a lot of the same themes.
“There will be different challenges in the coming weeks,” McStay said after Mayo’s dramatic draw with Galway. “A player wins a ball on the ’45 and turns around to see 14 lads in front of him. Everyone wants to play lovely long foot passes but if you’re kicking it into 14 opponents you’re not going to get much joy, so there was a bit of patience and a bit of width.
“I felt we were pretty good at that.”
“Playing in Division 1 is about focussing on the here and now,” said Donaghy after Armagh had edged out Monaghan in a typical local derby.
“You can’t look further past the next game, and that’s not a cliché, it’s a fact of life.
“Because every level of competition in Division One is serious, so you have to give them the respect they deserve.
“We’ve Mayo next in the Athletic Grounds next Sunday with a new management team and a hungry group of players. So every week you’re prepping for the next team and focused on that.”
National League Division 1
Armagh v Mayo
Sunday, February 5
Athletic Grounds at 3.30pm