Preview: Galway v Mayo
Can Galway stop Mayo's bid for five Connacht titles in a row?
Connacht SF semi-final
Galway v Mayo, Salthill, 4.0 Live on RTE 2
Mayo’s dominance of Galway in the Connacht championship has been absolute for eight seasons. Galway’s last championship win over Mayo came in the 2008 Connacht final which brought their tally of provincial wins to 44.
At the time Mayo had 40 Connacht titles to their credit but having won five provincial crowns since they have now overtaken their arch rivals at the head of the Roll of Honour. Better still, from a Mayo perspective they beat the Tribesmen in four of those campaigns.
The standard Galway retort is that Mayo failed to follow on even once and win an All-Ireland and they have won six All-Ireland titles since Mayo’s last success in 1951. All this is grist to the mill.
But the two statistics that new Galway boss Kevin Walsh will focus on is that Mayo’s total winning margin over Galway in their last three championship games was 30 points and they conceded seven goals in their last two.
On the law of averages Galway are due a win over Mayo but unless they stop leaking goals they have no chance of ending the visitors’ ambitions of capturing a record fifth provincial title on the spin next month.
Sligo deployed a blanket defence while Walsh was in charge and his side will surely pack their back line with bodies today and attempt to hit Mayo on the counter-attack. Interestingly, they gave nothing away in their last match against Leitrim effectively killing the contest after the break when they conceded 27 frees.
Physically Galway was overwhelmed when the sides last clashed in Salthill two years ago and they again lost the physical battle last summer in Castlebar. It remains to be seen whether they have done enough work in the gym in the meantime to make up the deficit.
But Mayo’s new joint managers, Noel Connelly and Pat Holmes, are under far more pressure than Walsh as, realistically, few expect the home side to prevail – they’re 9/4 outsiders.
Significantly they have recast the centre of their defence; David Clarke is back in goal for the first time since damaging his hamstring in the 2013 series; Kevin Keane is trusted with the crucial full back position and Tom Cunniffe lines out at centre-back if Mayo plays as selected.
Mayo’s league campaign was less than inspiring; their wins were achieved against a Kerry team that had just returned from their team holiday; 13-man Monaghan and a Derry team that was relegated. On the flip-side they were hammered by Dublin and also lost to home to Tyrone.
But then Galway’s form was even worse as they flirted with relegation from Division 2 until they got their act together in the last couple of rounds.
There were 34 scores in last year’s contest; it will be a surprise if that total is reached this afternoon. This will be tight, attritional and low-scoring affair.
Obviously the loss of Shane Walsh is a serious blow to Galway. But Damien Comer could prove a real handful to the Mayo defence while the ability of Michael Lundy and Gary Sice to run at the opposing defence could break the Mayo line.
Ultimately if midfielders Fiontán Ó Curraoin or Paul Conroy edge the midfield battle and Gary O’Donnell keeps Aidan O’Shea at bay Galway could finally turn the tables on their neighbours.