Over the past fifty years, the biggest rivalry we’ve had is that with our next-door neighbours, Galway and, unsurprisingly, they’re also the county that we’ve faced most often over that period. The Mayo-Galway rivalry is, like the Cork-Kerry one or the Meath-Dublin one (but, not, whatever the media spinners might say might say, the Kerry-Dublin one), one of the enduring features of the Gaelic Football scene and, for as long as the current championship structure remains in place (don’t get me going on that again – it’s too early in the year to do so), it’s one that’s going to maintain its prominent place within the scheme of things.
Just because it’s a strong rivalry, this doesn’t mean that it’s one where both parties have had an equal share of success (as Cork football fans can confirm in relation to their jousts with the Kerrymen). While we will always (well, nearly always) turn up to see the lads face the Herrin Chokers brimming with confidence about our ability to do them down, our half-century record against them makes for sobering enough reading. Indeed, there’s no denying that over this period the Tribesmen have us squarely in the ha’penny place: of the 58 meetings we’ve had, they’ve won 34, drawn six and lost just 18 and the aggregate score stands at 64-571 (763 points) to them versus 54-528 (690) to us. That’s us told, then.
Unlike all the other counties we’ve faced so far in this year’s league, our meetings since 1959 with Galway have happened more often in the championship than they have in the NFL. That’s no surprise, really, as we’ve been the two strongest counties in Connacht for much of this period and have met in the provincial championship in 32 out of those 50 years. It’s no surprise either that the decade when we met least often – the 1970s – was also the one where Roscommon were the most prominent county within Connacht and it was then that the longest period between a Mayo-Galway game, from November 1975 to December 1980, occurred. At the other end of the scale, we met three times in 1995 and also did so every year between 1966 and 1969.
Breaking down our encounters decade-by-decade gives us little solace either because it’s only in one ten-year period – the 1990s, obviously – that we’ve managed to come out on top. And even then that was a decade where we blew two winnable All-Irelands whereas they snuck in the next year and plundered their first Sam in 32 years. Over that decade, we won six of the 13 clashes we had with them, drawing three and losing the remaining four. The Sixties, meanwhile, were all Galway: we met them 17 times, winning just three, drawing one and losing 13. While we didn’t see a lot of each other in the Seventies, they won four and lost one of our five clashes during that decade. In the Eighties the count was six wins, two draws and four losses in their favour and it was also in the Eighties that they recorded their biggest win over us in the entire period – the 1982 Connacht final where they hammered us by 16 points. I can still recall fleeing Tuam in horror after that one. This decade has seen the rivalry revert to type, with the Tribesmen 7-4 ahead and so it’s likely they’ll take the ten-year spoils this time too. We haven’t drawn with them so far this decade (our last draw was in the league back in 1997) – maybe Sunday could be the time for another one?
Narrowing the focus in to league encounters, Galway are still well ahead of us on this metric too: of our 23 NFL clashes, they’ve won 13, drawn three and lost seven to us. With them at home in the league, the count is 6-1-3 in their favour and at Tuam it’s 5-1-2. It’s worth pointing out that that Tuam statistic (and, by extension, the whole fifty-year record) includes the NFL match in November 1966 that was abandoned shortly before the end due to a pitch invasion, with Galway leading by 3-8 to 0-6. It appears that it was our lot that did most of the invading because the match was subsequently awarded to Galway and, given this, plus the fact that time was almost up when the ref called a halt to proceedings, I’ve included the result within the 50-year roll-call. Here’s the full half-century set of results:
There’s a few other things worth mentioning about this long, long list of results. First, I guess, is that on Sunday Galway are aiming to complete a four-in-a-row over us: since we beat them in that odd NFL semi-final clash in Croker in April 2007, they then walloped us (in every meaning of the word) the following month in the championship and they edged by us in both league and championship last year as well. You have to go back as far as the period 1982 to 1984 for a similar losing streak against them (I was at most of those defeats too, as I painfully recall) but four-in-a-row isn’t anything like as bad as it’s got with them: we lost every match we played against them from 1960 to 1967 and our championship win against them in Pearse Stadium that year brought a nine-match losing streak against them to an end. (In actual fact, the losing streak is longer if you delve further back than fifty years but I’m not going to do so today).
The second thing is that the old myth about Mayo being the “second best team in Ireland” during Galway’s halcyon three-in-a-row period in the Sixties appears to be just that – a myth. Not only did Galway routinely beat us every time we met them in league and championship during this period, they hammered us in Connacht in 1964 and then we didn’t even qualify to meet them in the 1965 provincial final. The fact that we only lost to them by a point in the 1966 final could, I think, be the reason why we have such a rose-tinted view of our record against them during this era but it’s worth noting that it is rose-tinted all the same.
We must, however, end on a bright note (this is our rivalry with the Herrin Chokers, after all) and here it is: we have a 100% success record against them when we’ve met at Croke Park. This has happened twice this decade and obviously it’s the 2001 league final, when we finally got to lift some silverware at HQ, that stands out as the significant memory from those two (I didn’t have my camera with me that day and so the picture has to be one taken at the 2007 league semi-final). Now here’s a thought: why don’t we play this year’s Connacht final at Croke Park instead of poxy old Pearse Stadium?