As Galway and Mayo face each other this weekend, the question arises is the Connacht championship the one province that offers the prospect of the most competitive games? Last weekend New York served it up to Leitrim and Sligo after overcoming London are a potential handful. And we haven’t mentioned Roscommon yet, remember they are the champions.
Often championship matches bring to mind TS Elliot’s line that 'the world will end, not with a bang, with a whimper'. It’s often that the early rounds of provincial games are peppered with damp squibs, a mismatch here and there, and an occasional war of attrition, but this Sunday we have two heavyweights on the park who both have legitimate All Ireland ambitions.
Mayo? Well because they are Mayo. It’s not that long since we watched the last few frustrating minutes of the All Ireland final peter out. Dublin closing out a game Mayo know they could have won. That will have gnawed at them winterlong.
It’s a shorter time since Galway came out of the blocks sharpish in the league to take out Tyrone and from that platform they were able to mount a stylish campaign led by the bullishness of Damian Comer. On Sunday Comer lines out in a potent full forward unit with Séan Armstrong, as Kevin Walsh has shuffles the pack following the league final defeat to Dublin.
In come debutants Ciaran Duggan, Barry McHugh and Seán Andy Ó Ceallaigh with Gary O’Donnell and Tom Flynn also handed a starting jersey. A few eyebrows were raised at Comer’s comments on winning ‘An All Ireland’ but in truth Galway have had a decent seam of players on their conveyer belt and the league confirmed their progress to date. Not the finished article but a good work in progress. We should not forget too the exploits of Corofin who have had three men added to the county panel in Ian Burke, Kieran Molloy and Bernard Power. Others were called but a few apparently have chosen not to take up the call. Not yet that is, the door remains ajar, if reading between the lines is correct. Kevin Walsh made the interesting point that because the championship starts earlier there is less time to integrate club players who played through to St Patrick’s Day into a label that has gelled and is working well as a unit. That may explain absences and a lack of concern at the absence of All Ireland winning players.
Mayo return once more into the fray a little bit more battle hardened and flinty than before, they are a resilient bunch of lads and seem philosophical to the outside world at least. Mayo know that barring a major upset they will likely feature in the Super 8s this summer and they could find that format just what is needed to sharpen their steel for a potential joust with Dublin. The Connacht provincial winners would be grouped with the Munster champions in Pool one of the Super 8s meaning if that were Mayo, they would avoid the Leinster champions in the group stage and even potentially in the All Ireland semi final.
It has to be frustrating for Mayo to know in the quiet of their own collective soul that in any other era they would probably have one at least one All Ireland at this stage. It has been their karma to run in to the current Dublin team. The rest is history.
For Sunday’s match against the tribesmen Conor Loftus gets a start in the forward line along with captain Cillian O’Connor and Andy Moran. Lee Keegan is one of five of the All Ireland starting team not to feature, others being Chris Barrett who is still recovering from a knee procedure, Jason Doherty and Donal Vaughan. Mayo fans will hope Keegan and Barrett in particular return sooner rather than later for obvious reasons.
If Mayo can get a fraction of greater consistency from their forward line and Aidan O’Shea then they could have an invincible summer. Both these teams should make it to the Super 8 shootout. From there, who knows!
Mayo v Galway
Sunday May 13, 4:00pm