Sport

David Brady: Why Mayo will make it five-in-a-row in Connacht Championship

SportBy David Brady
Mayo’s Keith Higgins, centre, with, left to right, Paul Conroy (Galway), Martin Carroll (London), Niall Carty (Roscommon), Mark Breheny (Sligo) and Sean McWeeney (Leitrim)
Mayo’s Keith Higgins, centre, with, left to right, Paul Conroy (Galway), Martin Carroll (London), Niall Carty (Roscommon), Mark Breheny (Sligo) and Sean McWeeney (Leitrim)

For four summers now it has been the Mayo show in the Connacht Championship.

This summer they are bidding for their fifth provincial title in a row for the first time ever.

The key question is whether the other teams in Connacht are getting any better or if Mayo are letting their standards slip.

The big talking point from a western perspective this spring was Roscommon’s performances in Division 2 of the Allianz League which ultimately saw them capture the title when they defeated Down in the final.

They have now won promotion two years in a row and team boss John Evans deserves much of the credit for their success.

Next spring Roscommon will be in with the big boys in Division 1. They have a good mix of youth and experience and playing in the top flight will be the making of them. 

Niall Carew is still settling in as the new Sligo boss and they will be utterly focused on their June 20 date against the winners of the quarter-final between Roscommon and London.

Their key players, David Kelly, Adrian Marren and Mark Breheny, will have to be on top of their game if they are to advance. 

Sligo football has been at a standstill since  they were surprisingly beaten by Roscommon in the 2010 Connacht Final. 

They won’t win the Connacht title this year, but if there was to be an upset I imagine it might come at Markievicz Park in the Sligo v Roscommon tie.

Initially Galway made significant progress in Division 2 under Kevin Walsh but then lost three games on the spin which put paid to their promotion ambitions. The addition of the players from All-Ireland club champions Corofin will stand to them in the white heat of the championship.

I don’t mean to be disrespectful to Leitrim but I feel sorry for them. They put so much time and effort into the cause but they are not progressing. Being without their best player, Emlyn Mulligan, who has decided to travel the world this year, leaves them very vulnerable. 

So I expect Galway to win today in Carrick-on-Shannon which means they will have two championship games under their belt by the time they face Mayo in the provincial semi-final in Salthill on June 14.

No manager knows how to motivate a team to beat Mayo better than Kevin Walsh. I rate Shane Walsh as the second best forward in Connacht football and with players of the calibre of Damien Comer, Fiontán Ó Curraoin and Paul Conroy they are not going to roll over.

This will be the toughest provincial campaign that Mayo has faced since making the breakthrough in 2011.

New joint managers Noel Connelly and Pat Holmes have been getting to know this group of players over the last six months. Even though they worked with some of them in the U-21 grade it’s a different story at the top level.

Cillian O’Connor has been sidelined with injury in recent months. Mayo’s fate against Galway will depend on whether he is match fit for the game. No new forwards are ready to step up to the mark yet.

Lee Keegan, Donal Vaughan, Aidan O’Shea and Kevin McLoughlin are seasoned performers. The question is whether they can summon the appetite for another year? My answer is why not! After all, the best teams in the country reach the business end of the All-Ireland series every year.

The minimum requirement from Mayo this year is a Connacht Final appearance. Anything else — bar an All-Ireland victory — is not good enough. 

While I expect Mayo to reach the decider I also believe Roscommon are good enough to win the Connacht title this summer. 

With players of the calibre of Senan Kilbride, the Murtagh brothers Diarmuid and Ciaran and the Smith brothers Donie and Enda available, Roscommon have the scoring power.

John Evans made a big mistake in not starting Diarmuid Murtagh and Enda Smith in last year’s game against Mayo. He won’t make that error again. Roscommon’s day will come but perhaps not this year.

Verdict: Mayo.