JUST WHAT THE DOC’ ORDERED Jason Doherty celebrates after scoring Mayo’s first goal against London in Ruislip. Pic: Sportsfile
THEY are not the Galway of yesteryear, the Galway that regularly set standards few rivals could emulate. But they are Galway nonetheless, a wounded Galway combing their chest of past glory for the magic formula that drove their success.
And a hurting Galway is one to be aware of.
It is a measure of Mayo’s standing in the order of merit that they are the fancy of some commentators to win this year’s All-Ireland title. But it is how Mayo handle that accolade that will define their year, whether, as a result of it, they feel the next game is already won. In that state of mind it never is and the price is high.
We in Mayo have rarely handled the favourites label with any normal degree of maturity. The unremitting ploy of managers in building up the opposition would suggest that teams of all hue are still susceptible to faint praise.
Already Galway have been dismissed by most of Mayo followers as easy opposition and if our footballers think similarly, think that anything less than a grown-up performance will suffice, the Tribesmen will surely curtail their romp.
Down the years these old rivals have thrilled us with their duels. Maybe the chasm between them has widened beyond the norm these past five years as a new Mayo sculpted by James Horan set new horizons ... and new records in Connacht. Galway have fared badly in their recent clashes and that 17-points thrashing they suffered at Pearse Stadium three years ago still rankles.
Pride has taken a hammering.
Saturday’s semi-final presents them with an ideal opportunity to emerge from the shadows. They come as outsiders, dismissed even by many of their own supporters. No team, least of all Galway, lags that far behind. Last year only four points separated them from Mayo at Pearse Stadium.
No lustre was shed on either side in their separate league campaigns. A late stops-out finish helped Mayo retain Division 1 status, while Galway lost out to Cavan for promotion to the same division.
Manager Stephen Rochford did avail of the league to provide some new talent with a taste of life at top, and the result is that some of those he phased in are now pushing for first-team places. Brendan Harrison, Evan Regan and Paddy Durcan, barring injury, are almost assured of places.
Conversely, veterans Andy Moran and Alan Dillon are still chasing their old dream and, with depthless mental strength, have kept in touch with Rochford’s tyros.
Competition for places hots up
THE battle between wing back Paddy Durcan and Gary Sice will claim attention. Sice burns with indignation at Galway’s slump in recent years. His goal last year exposed some flaws in the Mayo defence.
In their Connacht club final between Castlebar and Corofin, Durcan edged the battle between the two and will be hoping, if selected, to repeat the success on Saturday. But the experienced Sice will take watching.
Shane Walsh has a variety of skills that will also pose problems for Mayo. Colm Boyle, our storming centre half-back, may be saddled with the responsibility of controlling the flair of the fast and nimble Galway man.
‘Boyler’ will not want for passion wherever he lines out. Whether he has the speed to curb the flying Galway man, who tends to drift ominously out of position, is what will concern Rochford in placing the defence.
And it won’t stop there. The Tribesmen are also relying on Danny Cummins and Damien Comer to lead Galway football into a bright new day. Both are talented and competent.
Seasoned campaigners that they are, Ger Cafferkey, Lee Keegan, Keith Higgins and Colm Boyle need no convincing about the agility of the Galway forwards. Experience is not an issue. Their old verve might come in for scrutiny though, and eyes will be peered for any lessening of intensity.
Brendan Harrison, barring injury, is certain to be at corner back, having earned his stripes in the league. Donal Vaughan is working hard to rediscover his old form, and in the absence of the luckless Chris Barrett, management will hardly risk moving their dependable corner back Keith Higgins to the forward line.
As things stand, every Mayo position up front is being hotly contested. Spearheaded by team captain Cillian O’Connor with Aidan O’Shea at centre forward, Diarmuid O’Connor, Kevin McLoughlin, new discovery Evan Regan and Jason Doherty the likely selection.
But if he has recovered from injury thought, too, has to be given to under-21 star Conor Loftus who has acquired league experience and who scored a vital goal against London. His aptitude and presence of mind have singled out the young Crossmolina man as a potential match-winner.
Entering the crucible
ALL-IRELAND under-21-winning captain Stephen Coen is also pushing for a place ... at midfield. Tom Parsons and Seamie O’Shea are the incumbents and if fully fit most likely to fill those positions on Sunday. Management has cover in Jason Gibbons and Coen, a proven leader, who is edging closer to first team selection, having stood in admirably for Seamie O’Shea in London.
Mobility and endurance are as big an influence in today’s midfield play as the art of high fielding. Seamus O’Shea typifies the modern trend and, partnered by the high-fielding Parsons, the Mayo men possess between them a fair blend of the required arts.
Tom Flynn and the seasoned Paul Conroy present the Mayo pair with stiff opposition and the outcome of the battle in the centre of the pitch could be decisive.
Their defence is perhaps the Tribesmen’s least stable sector, especially since Finian Hanley vacated the full-back position. In his place Declan Kyne assumes control, with David Wynne and Cathal Sweeney on either side. They have done reasonably well in the league, propped up by a strong half-back line of Liam Silke, Gary O’Donnell and Gareth Bradshaw. But they are vulnerable.
The silence from Galway is deafening. They know they have never better positioned to spring a surprise. They will have been drilling assiduously in the hope of knocking the champs off their perch and reclaiming their old stature in the province. In motivating his charges, Kevin Walsh will surely have every negative criticism made of them pasted on the walls of their dressing room.
The real strength of each side is in their forward sections. Endeavouring to contain them presents headaches for both sets of backs. Mistakes could be fatal. Their experience would suggest that in terms of composure and mental toughness, Mayo’s cover when measured against a Galway defence being probed by Aidan O’Shea and the O’Connors looks more secure.
But only a Mayo fully focused on living up to the standard they have already set in Connacht will survive Saturday’s crucible.