We’re now just a week out from the Galway game so it’s definitely time to turn the beams in the direction of this one.
Just seven days on from Easter Sunday, our meeting with Galway in the quarter-final of the Conancht SFC is a pivotal Championship encounter for both of us. With the back door restored this year, defeat isn’t the end of the road for either county but whichever side loses this day week will still be wounded badly so there’s a huge amount at stake for both of us.
It’s the first match to be played on the redeveloped pitch at MacHale Park and it’s also, interestingly, the first Mayo/Galway Championship match to be played at the venue since 2018. That was the day Tom Parsons suffered that gut-wrenching injury, a game in which Galway snatched victory courtesy of an injury time goal from Johnny Heaney.
That win completed a three-in-a-row success for the Tribesmen over us in the Championship as Kevin Walsh and his rather unattractive Galway Shawl tactics successfully got under our skin and ended a period of emphatic dominance we’d enjoyed over them in the earlier part of the decade.
But then James Horan came back and the pendulum swung back in our favour again. We finally got the better of them on a memorable night in Limerick in the qualifiers in 2019, we beat them again in the behind-closed-doors Covid Connacht final in late 2020 and beat them again in high summer last year at the novel Nestor Cup decider at Croke Park.
To make matters even better from our point of view, in each of those matches we knocked the neighbours out of the Championship as well. Admittedly, that only happened the last two years because the format reverted – due to Covid – to the old knockout one but it was nonetheless as satisfying from our point of view as it must have been frustrating for them.
And so on Sunday we butt heads once again. James Horan has an impeccable record against Galway in the Championship but leads an injury-scarred team into this game. Padraic Joyce had his fair share and more of good days against Mayo as a player but has had a less happy time as manager and he comes into this game knowing it’s one he simply has to win.
Galway’s form so far this year will send them into Sunday’s showdown in fairly good mood. They won untroubled promotion from Division Two of the National League but, a bit like ourselves, the wheels came off the wagon to some degree as the spring campaign reached its conclusion.
Galway started the year full of intent. That much was clear when they swept to victory under the Dome in the pre-season FBD League – beating ourselves and Roscommon in the process – and they took that form into an impressive Division Two campaign.
They set out their stall in Round 1, thumping Meath by 1-14 to 0-6 in Salthill, following that up the next weekend with a comfortable 1-12 to 0-9 win over Down up at Páirc Esler in Newry.
A fortnight later, back at Pearse Stadium, they got the better of John Maughan’s Offaly in a high-scoring encounter. The former Mayo manager quipped afterwards, however, that his team had exposed how to get at Galway in a game that finished 2-17 to 3-10 in Galway’s favour.
Three more wins extended Galway’s 100% record to six matches and secured promotion back to the top tier with a match to spare. It’s worth noting, as an aside, that Galway had been hugely unlucky to get relegated at all in 2021, bracketed as they were in Division One South along with Kerry and Dublin so all but guaranteed to end up in a relegation play-off. Then, when that happened, they had to go to Clones to face Monaghan and were extremely unlucky to lose by a point in extra-time there.
Those three wins were over Cork, an emphatic 3-22 to 2-17 win over the flailing Leesiders at Páirc Uí Chaoimh (you know, the place where GAA matches are sometimes played when rock concerts aren’t on there), followed by a lower scoring 2-8 to 1-5 win over Clare at Pearse Stadium and then an eye-catching hammering of promotion-chasing Derry. Galway scorched the Oakleafers by 4-11 to 0-12 in that one at Owenbeg.
But then a funny thing happened on the way to what should have been a successful conclusion to their League campaign. With nothing to play for in Round 7, Joyce decided to field a weakened team against Roscommon and the Rossies took full advantage, beating their neighbours by 1-20 to 1-15 at Dr Hyde Park, thus claiming promotion themselves and setting up a rematch in the final at Croke Park a week later.
If the Tribesmen thought that order would be restored at HQ in that Division Two decider they were to be sadly mistaken. Not for the first time in recent years, Roscommon tore into Galway with considerable abandon and for a time in the second half it looked like they were going to give them a proper trimming.
Then Shane Walsh was introduced and the much-vaunted but till then strangely lethargic Galway attack finally sprang into life. The Tribesmen reeled the Rossies in with calm efficiency, hitting six points on the spin to lead by one with time running out.
But just as they looked good to see out the win, they were undone – in true Galway style, one might argue – with some comically poor defending in injury time that enabled sub Diarmuid Murtagh to waltz through their rearguard and lash the winning goal to the net. The Rossies claimed the title thanks to a 1-20 to 0-22 victory.
So, instead of hitting the road to Castlebar with the Division Two trophy in the boot, Joyce instead takes his team into the meeting with us stinging from defeats on successive weekends to Roscommon. That’s not exactly the ideal kind of trajectory to be on heading into a game like Sunday’s.
But then we’re not exactly in rude health either. We also had a profitable League campaign, securing our top tier status early on, but then saw things spin out of control, losing winnable matches against both Kerry and Tyrone and losing players to injury every time we put a team out on the pitch. Then to cap things off, we got absolutely hammered by Kerry in the Division One final.
All of which means that both teams have fairly fundamental questions hanging over them heading into Sunday’s meeting. Are Galway all puff and no substance? Will James Horan’s famed ‘learnings’ ever amount to more than making the same mistakes again and again? Questions, questions – for both of us.
This being competitive sport, though, we all know the drill. For whichever of us wins next weekend, the negative stuff will be quietly packed away and a more positive narrative will take hold. For the losers, though, the negative plotline will get dialled up to full volume ahead of the qualifiers. That’s just the way it goes.
But how will it go? Let’s end with a poll on that, which, because it’s a match that’s to be decided on the day, needs to be binary in nature. Time, then, to test the waters a week out from the latest episode in this long-running series.
Will we beat Galway?
- Yes (56%, 686 Votes)
- No (44%, 539 Votes)
Total Voters: 1,225