Time for a few final thoughts, then, before tomorrow’s provincial decider, a contest which has to rank as the most unusual Connacht final that we’ve ever been involved in. We’ve often been confident heading into battle for the JJ Nestor Cup – sometimes with good reason, other times not – but we’ve never before, and surely never will again, take the field in a provincial decider as 1/500 favourites to prevail.
You can’t really argue with those odds either, given the two teams’ respective standing in the game at the present time. We can rightly claim to be one of the top few teams in the country at the moment while London are clearly no more than a modest Division Four outfit. We’ve massacred Galway and Roscommon to reach the final while they – and fair play to them for doing so – have managed to steer narrowly past Sligo and Leitrim to make it to tomorrow’s decider.
London’s appearance in the final is, of course, bigger than the game itself (which is probably just as well). There is enormous symbolic and emotional importance to what Paul Coggins and his gutsy side have achieved this year and as someone who lived and worked in that great city for a number of years myself I can appreciate only too well the heartfelt pride that those involved in the London GAA scene, as well as the wider London Irish community, will feel when London take the field at McHale Park tomorrow.
You’d need to be a hard-hearted individual not to wish the Exiles well tomorrow and to hope that the day is a memorable one for them. While London GAA is clearly on an upward curve, it’s unlikely they’ll find themselves in this situation again any time soon and, even if they do, they’ll only get to experience the novelty of this initial appearance the one time. In that sense, tomorrow is the biggest of big days for them and it’s a day they’ll always want to look back on with pride and satisfaction.
But this is sport and once the ball is thrown in at 2pm all that soft-headed, kind-hearted empathising has to end. As Mayo supporters, we surely want to see our team win this match as comprehensively as possible, maybe even by a record-beating margin. Not because we’ll take any great joy in inflicting pain but instead because on Connacht final day the lads should be primed to perform at a standard that a team like London simply won’t be able to deal with.
Against both Galway and Roscommon, the result was in the bag before half-time and the aim should certainly be to get to this position as well tomorrow. Memories of the 2011 Ruislip near-miss should mean that the lads have every incentive to assert their superiority in the opening exchanges and if we get on top in the opening quarter then we should be able to win by as much as we want.
Against Galway and Roscommon, James Horan’s team showed that they’ve shifted up a level from last year. With heavy-hitting teams like Donegal, Dublin, Kerry, Cork and Tyrone now looming up ahead as Croke Park once more starts to come into view for us, we know that we need to improve further if we’re to face down teams of this quality.
Tomorrow is a step on the road to Croke Park for us and it’s a step we need to take in the most decisive way we can to ensure that we’re ready for the more significant challenges facing us once we’ve completed a hat-trick of Connacht titles. This particular three-in-a-row should be a cause for celebration itself but once it’s in the bag – as it surely will be by around 3.30pm tomorrow – thoughts will already start to turn to the bigger challenges facing us at HQ.
Best of luck to the lads and best wishes too to Enda Gilvarry’s minors, who face a tough battle as they aim to knock defending provincial champions Roscommon – who are also chasing a Connacht three-in-a-row tomorrow – off their perch in the day’s curtain-raiser at McHale Park. At the risk of being greedy, it’d be nice to see the county claim both the Kilcoyne and Nestor Cups tomorrow afternoon.