The stakes are high in every match in a knockout competition. Today’s Connacht final, however, appears freighted with every greater importance.
With Kerry’s demise last weekend, the high road to the All-Ireland final opens up for the winners of today’s provincial decider, while for the losers it’s the end of their inter-county season. Welcome to Connacht final day, the turbo-charged version.
In this strangest of years, it’s certainly been a funny old one for both of today’s great rivals. Galway, flying so high in the spring, now apparently almost becalmed due to back-to-back defeats – including a right pasting inflicted by our lads – in their final two League games. By contrast, we played poorly all spring and ended up getting relegated from Division One last month but we seem to have brushed off this setback and have hit our stride with renewed vigour since then.
We’re clearing each hurdle at a decent clip. Or, maybe, we’re knackered after four matches on heavy pitches in the same number of weeks. They’re nicely rested up, just aching to explode into action. Or, perhaps, they’re woefully undercooked. Take your pick.
What we have in common, though, is an iron-clad necessity to stick to the task at hand today. This is not the day for either team to be dreaming about what might lie ahead in the All-Ireland semi-final and maybe even the final beyond. Those kind of idle reveries are only guaranteed to produce tears before bedtime tonight.
From our perspective, it’s obviously great to be back in a Connacht final again, the first time we’ve got here in five long years. During the five-in-a-row era a certain ennui appeared to develop within our ranks about winning Connacht. There’s no effin’ ennui now.
Today’s game is set to be a real battle and why shouldn’t it? It’s an old-fashioned Championship showdown – one with added frisson as it has to be decided on the day, even if that (God forbid) means a penalty shootout – with silverware in the form of the JJ Nestor Cup for the winners. And with it, another day out in early December at Croke Park.
We’re told that Galway are going to be well up for this, that Padraic Joyce will have his troops primed for action. I’m sure he will, because James Horan is certain to have his charged well ready for battle too. This is, after all, a Connacht final and our man knows all about what it takes to win one.
There was loads on the preview episode of the podcast about match-ups and tactics and all the rest so there’s no point in my doing the poor man’s impersonation of all that here as well. I think we can all take it as a given that today’s decider is sure to be a contest with several intriguing sub-plots, any one of which could be decisive in terms of how the match is won or lost.
It’s a big day – the absence of supporters at Pearse Stadium notwithstanding – for both teams today. All the more so for those lads whose first Connacht SFC final this is.
Our absence from the decider in recent years means that we’ve a number of lads making their Connacht final debuts today. From the team named to start today, seven players – Oisín Mullin, Stephen Coen, Eoghan McLaughlin, Mattie Ruane, Conor Loftus, Mark Moran and Tommy Conroy – all fall into this category, as do a number of others who are on the bench for us. The best of luck to all of them today.
Can we do this? Of course we can. The handy League win we enjoyed over them last month has no relevance today – if we want to beat them again we’ll have to perform far better than that as they’re sure to be much improved on Tuam as well.
Our form coming into today is encouraging but we need to step it up several notches this afternoon. If we do that, we should certainly be there or thereabouts at the finish.
Right, time for some fresh air before the battle for a prime spot on the sofa gets going in earnest once more. Match-day Sundays – where would we be without them?
Here’s hoping to a few more this side of Christmas, but only if we get the big job that’s facing us done today. So let’s get this done. Up Mayo.