Connacht finalists will have one eye on Dubs going into provincial decider
Connacht SFC final: Mayo v Galway (tomorrow, Croke Park, 1.45pm – live on RTE2)
WITH those more than likely premature rumours of Dublin’s demise continuing to gather pace, and the fact it is taking place before 18,000 people at Croke Park rather than Castlebar, tomorrow’s Connacht final promises to take on a slightly different look than recent offerings.
Provincial pride is one thing, and both James Horan and Padraic Joyce have no shortage of reasons for wanting to assert their dominance out west. But it is hard to escape the narrative out there - that, this year of all years, the Dubs might be there for the taking.
What is that based on? Well, on the face of it, the absence of Stephen Cluxton and a ropey second half against Meath last weekend. Maybe a few rumblings of discontent over the high-profile training ban breach back in April.
It feels somewhat like grasping at straws, given the extent of their dominance and the richness of their panel, but if the Sky Blue juggernaut is ever going to be halted any possible opportunity must be grabbed.
Most foresee Kerry providing their ultimate test should both make it all the way to an August 29 All-Ireland final, but Galway and Mayo will have ambitions of their own as the winners of tomorrow’s clash meet the Leinster champions down the road, with Dublin expected to see off Kildare.
After the pain of All-Ireland final defeat last December, Horan’s men won’t be lacking in motivation to earn another crack at Dessie Farrell. A, in Championship terms, the Ballintubber man has held the Indian sign over their Connacht rivals across his two spells in the hot-seat.
Under Kevin Walsh, the Tribesmen managed to swing the pendulum back in their direction but last November’s most recent provincial success was the fifth time in-a-row Horan had managed to steer Mayo beyond Galway (2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2020).
They are favourites to do so again, but there are mitigating factors to consider that might make Galway worth a punt.
Firstly, when they met in the 2020 decider, a walkover victory over Sligo – forced to withdraw due to a Covid-19 crisis – was hardly ideal preparation for a renewal with their fiercest rivals.
Mayo, on the other hand, built confidence and momentum in victories over Leitrim and Roscommon.
Still Horan’s men found it hard to shake the Tribe off at Pearse Park, eventually edging across the line by a point. As he had done in the semi-final win over the Rossies, Cillian O’Connor provided inspiration when it was required.
Their talisman won’t be there tomorrow, or at any stage this summer after an Achilles tendon injury ruled him out. In terms of their long-term ambitions, that remains a hammer blow, and one that could catch up with Mayo sooner than expected.
As well as having Damien Comer back in the fold, Galway should also be sharper this time around. While they were going toe-to-toe with Roscommon and Dublin after an opening day disaster in Kerry, followed by a dramatic relegation play-off defeat to Monaghan, Mayo were plotting their way out of Division Two with wins over the comparatively modest challenges of Down, Meath, Westmeath and Clare.
Roscommon came into this year’s Championship determined to right the wrong of last year’s exit to the Tribe but were brushed aside three weeks ago. Seven days later Mayo went through the motions in a facile 24-point victory over Leitrim.
The competitiveness of their lead in to tomorrow’s game could give Galway an edge, though Horan has proved himself a master in peaking at the right time, even when there’s an evolution under way.
Mayo are without O’Connor, while the likes of David Clarke, Keith Higgins, Séamus O’Shea, Chris Barrett, Tom Parsons and Andy Moran have all exited the stage in recent times, but the continued progression of a side forging its own identity gives great cause for optimism.
Tommy Conroy is a force to be reckoned with up top, while the strength of young guns Oisin Mullin and Eoghan McLaughlin alongside the experience of Aidan O’Shea, Diarmuid O’Connor, Paddy Durcan and Matthew Ruane around the middle third looks just too strong for anything the Tribe can throw at them.
Galway: C Gleeson; S O Ceallaigh, S O Maoilchiarain, L Silke; K Molloy, D McHugh, J Heaney; P Conroy, M Tierney; D Comer, P O Cuaig, C Sweeney; R Finnerty, S Walsh, C Sweeney
Mayo: R Hennelly; L Keegan, P O'Hora, M Plunkett; P Durcan, O Mullin, S Coen; M Ruane, C Loftus; B Walsh, A O'Shea, D O'Connor; T Conroy, D McHale, R O'Donoghue
Referee: C Lane (Cork)