GAA Football

Mayo to break Galway's hex

Damien Comer's absence has been a real blow to Galway's attack this year. Picture by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile.
BY Cahair O'Kane

All-Ireland SFC qualifiers round four: Galway v Mayo (today, 7pm, Gaelic Grounds)

WITH the Gaelic Grounds painted all week as a cliff edge, there's never been a greater onus on these two to get it right against each other.

In what will be a first knockout meeting between them since before the qualifiers were introduced, there's been an inescapable narrative that defeat will close the lid permanently on whichever side it befalls.

It seems a tad premature. Were it not for a devastating injury curse, Mayo would look a healthier picture now than they have in a couple of years. The work James Horan has done to deepen his options and freshen the side up can't be ignored.

Galway have an age profile that suggests there are a good few years in them yet. Some just seem desperate to sound the last note on Kevin Walsh, despite them having altered their approach this year.

The likelihood is that they'll go back to their defensive ways for this one. Galway have been doing the getting it right in this battle.

Their seven-game winning streak against their neighbours that runs across FBD League, Allianz League and Championship, has been an unbreakable anomaly for three different Mayo bosses.

From Pat Holmes and Noel Conneely to Stephen Rochford and now back to James Horan, none have been able to crack the code.

The reasons have been quite simple. Galway have found a way of playing that might not always be perfectly suited to their own players, but which is perfectly suited to beating Mayo.

If Galway present the same labyrinth of maroon pieces scattered everywhere across their own 45', the onus on Mayo to find a way through it.

In those seven games, Mayo have scored just three goals. They've averaged just 12 points. Galway have found the net six times and are averaging just over 14 points. Hardly world beating in itself, but they're the ones winning, so they don't have to answer questions.

Cillian O'Connor, having come off the bench against Armagh, is likely to make his first start. Darren Coen has been one of the finds of the year, while Kevin McLoughlin was clearly stung by being dropped in Castlebar and showed well when he came on.

That could leave Andy Moran frozen out, but a valuable asset he could be for the final 20 minutes.

Galway's attack has looked lightweight in the absence of Damien Comer. Despite the fact that they're clearly playing a more adventurous style, they haven't had the same efficiency up front. Roscommon were worthy victors in the Connacht final.

They've only scored more than a single goal in a game once this year, and that was against Sligo, where they'd only amassed five points by half-time.

Walsh is almost certain to revert to Bernard Power in goals after his surprise choice of Ruairi Lavelle for the provincial decider, and with the possible absence of Aidan O'Shea for Mayo, it could prove a big advantage.

Losing Lee Keegan as well could be catastrophic, especially given that he would have picked up Shane Walsh. Mayo's half-forward line doesn't inspire a huge degree of confidence, but they possess enough defensively to make this a battle.

All seven games that Galway have won have been battles, with only one of them decided by more than three points. This one will be no different.

While they may lack in other areas and while their injuries will catch up on them some day soon, Galway are maybe not the ones to take advantage. Mayo to break the hex and reach the last eight.

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