The Mayo footballers will face an "absolute battle" to pick up points on their return to Division 1 of the National League this season.
That’s according to recently-retired defender Colm Boyle who says that there are "definitely reasons to be optimistic" about the year ahead for last year’s beaten All-Ireland finalists - but it’s going to be tough for the Connacht side.
Mayo begin their Allianz League campaign with a ‘home’ tie against Donegal at Markievicz Park in Sligo on Sunday afternoon (1.45pm) as Hastings MacHale Park in Castlebar is currently undergoing pitch resurfacing works.
Boyle, a four-time All-Star, believes that getting experienced players like Brendan Harrison, Jason Doherty and Cillian O’Connor back on the field in the coming weeks will have a big bearing on Mayo’s season.
All three were sidelined with injuries last summer.
“The big thing for Mayo is can we improve? Can we get a couple of players back?” said Boyle.
“Cillian is a big one for the team. Jason Doc [Doherty] is back, Brendan Harrison — can we get these guys back? They’d be a huge addition to get them back into a squad and into a position where they were pushing for minutes.
“There’s definitely reasons to be optimistic, but it’s going to be tough,” he added.
“Looking at Mayo’s fixtures in Division 1, obviously we have no home game, but you look at them and think, 'Jesus, getting points out of every one of them is going to be an absolute battle’. So there are huge games there, and two weeks after the league you’re straight into the championship.”
Mayo face Galway in the Connacht SFC quarter-final on April 24.
Next weekend’s game will come too soon for the aforementioned Cillian O’Connor who is still working his way back to full fitness after rupturing his Achilles tendon during a National League match against Clare last June.
Mayo manager James Horan confirmed this week that the Ballintubber attacker is targeting a return to competitive action in March.
“The last time I was talking the phase of rehab was going very, very well,” said Horan.
“The next phase is a bit slower, but it looks it looks like round four or round five of the league [when he is back]. Or around that, I could be a round or two out there.
“But hopefully we’ll see something there.” Horan also said that dual star Fergal Boland had "picked up a knock" hurling with Tooreen in their All-Ireland Intermediate club semi-final defeat to Naas last weekend but may feature in the league opener.
“Jason Doherty is going well and in the mix,” added the Mayo boss.
Horan must also plan without All-Star midfielder Mattie Ruane for the first two rounds of the National League after the Breaffy star picked up a two-game suspension following his red card in last September’s All-Ireland final defeat to Tyrone.
“I think it’s harsh,” said Horan. “When it’s different years, different competitions almost...
“You know, you see players getting this weekend in a provincial competition and it doesn't have any impact on the National League. So it seemed harsh.”