John McEntee: Test for Galway will be chasing a game
FOR the third successive year Mayo failed to outscore Galway in a provincial clash and have been forced to take a tricky scenic route through the hills and valleys of Ireland in their quest for that elusive Sam Maguire.
If there's light at the end of the tunnel it must surely be very dim and distant at this stage.
Mayo have been the second-best team in Ireland for the past few years but have no provincial or national silverware to show for their efforts.
We all know history is kind to the winners as only winners are remembered for the right reasons.
It is easy to record the great wins of Down in 1991 and '94 which gave rise to their supporters waving their hands with the five fingers prominent, symbolic of their five All-Ireland senior wins.
They don't celebrate their one and only final defeat in 2010, even though that team was littered with fine players.
As Irish folk often do, perennial losers are remembered with some fondness as the great triers they are.
Unfortunately, two of the most prominent teams in this category hail from the same province – Roscommon and Mayo.
Galway, for their part, are a better team this year than they were last year or the year before.
Their steady progress was evident throughout the Allianz League, both this season and last.
I watched with admiration as they defeated Kildare in the 2017 Division Two final.
Their crowded defensive display over-shadowed their scoring prowess on the day, yet they converted 16 points from play – impressive kicking by anyone's standards.
I see Galway as a flamboyant team with a fantastic workrate. I would happily make the lengthy return journey to Pearse Stadium in Salthill to watch them play in the flesh.
They are a match for any team. As was the case on Sunday, they typically gain the upper hand early on and invite opponents into their defensive web as they chase scores, only to be overturned and decimated on the counter-attack. It is a high energy gameplan and one which their players have readily signed up to.
For me, though, it may also be their Achilles heel.
The ‘Super 8' series is going to be very demanding.
When teams are faced with a number of high-tempo matches in quick succession it is difficult to sustain the levels of intensity and Galway are certainly unlikely to be in the driving seat in each match.
Kevin Walsh will know their character has not been truly tested since their Championship defeats to Roscommon and Kerry last year.
In both games Galway looked decidedly average when they were forced to chase the game. The test is whether their system of play is sufficiently flexible to adapt to a game where they are perhaps three or four points down.
Have they the mental resolve to bounce back from a goal against the run of play?
If Damien Comer is double-teamed, as he was in last year's Connacht final, will his frustration grow and his effectiveness wane?
I'd bet that Kevin Walsh had a stern post-match conversation with his players during which he outlined to them the stark reality of what they'd just achieved. Mayo were not the same force they were last August and September.
They were without two key men in Lee Keegan and Cillian O'Connor, with the latter reluctantly introduced following Tom Parsons' collision with Eoghan Kerin, in which he suffered a potentially career-ending leg injury.
Keith Higgins was also less effective than is the norm, perhaps a hangover from his decision to concentrate on hurling for the entire League campaign.
Others such as Conor Loftus and Jason Doherty may as well have been absent, given their under-par contribution.
Galway certainly won't be crowing about this victory.
So for me, Galway remain exciting, skilful, hard-working and disciplined. They are in the ‘difficult to beat' category alongside Tyrone and Monaghan.
There is no doubt they are a top eight team, perhaps even a top four team, but will they survive the ‘Super 8s' and reach the All-Ireland semi-finals?
My fear is that they will not.
Their ‘Super 8' pool will probably consist of Kerry (as Munster champions), the Ulster Championship runners-up (possibly Donegal) or a team good enough to beat them, and the Leinster runners-up or a strong Qualifier (perhaps Kildare or Cork).
There will be one game at home, one away and another in Croke and the series will sentimentally be a re-hash of the Allianz League with the added pressure of Championship football.
Whilst Galway aimed to impress in the League, the other teams had one eye on the Championship.
Those teams will be fitter and better prepared come July.
I am concerned that Galway will struggle to recover against a fast-starting Kerry team, that they will not be able to repeat their intense tackling against a Donegal team with their tails in the air, or that they might be caught on the hop against an unpredictable force such as Cork.
I appreciate this is a pessimistic view of a team who harbour high hopes of following the Artane Boys Band on September 2.
If I am wrong, I would happily make another long journey to join in the celebration.