ALL week the talk has been about Ronan McGarrity. People stop you in the street, not to ask for his wellbeing but to wonder what effect his absence will have on Mayo’s chances in the Connacht final.
Curiosity about the other camp is all that engages the minds of Mayo and Galway followers before every big battle. Football rules. Psychology is in overdrive. How the other is thinking, plotting, scheming, reaches a state of paranoia.
You observe it before every meeting of the old rivals. You listen to the mandarins play up the merits of the opposition, and you know that some minds can still be deluded by such self-serving guff.
Asked about Galway’s chances in the Connacht final after struggling over Sligo, manager Liam Sammon declared: “Sure we’ll turn up anyway”, or words to that effect. The flattery was directed at Mayo’s runaway win over Roscommon the previous week.
But he and John O’Mahony know that the contrasting performances of Mayo and Galway in their respective semi-finals offer no real clue to Sunday’s outcome. In praising their opponents, each is bolstering the determination of their own charges.
Galway’s struggle is not always Mayo’s opportunity and vice versa. And whatever complacency Galway hoped was developing in Mayo this time round will have evaporated with news of McGarrity’s injury which is expected to rule him out of the game.
It’s a serious blow to Mayo’s hopes. As midfield anchor Galway have every reason to know of the qualities the Ballina man brings to midfield. Without him Mayo are in serious trouble.
Several midfield options have been open to the selectors over the years. But McGarrity has been the one constant. Throw in the likes of Tom Parsons, Pat Harte, David Heaney, who performed so capably against Roscommon, Seamus O’Shea and James Nallen and you have dependable performers, but almost always with the high-fielding McGarrity by the side of each.
Galway worry about their midfield too. Paul Conroy, their former All-Ireland winning minor, has held the post throughout the league with a variety of partners with which management is clearly not happy. Niall Coleman, Barry Cullinane and Gary O’Donnell have been in and out of that sector, none inspiring confidence.
Cullinane’s height and muscularity compensate sometimes for his lack of flair and he is usually called from the bench, not for his creative qualities, but to spoil midfield and stem the flow from the opposition.
An impressive midfield performance by Joe Bergin in the Galway championship may influence Liam Sammon to restore the Mountbellew man to that position where he has also best served the county. Otherwise, he will operate again at wing forward, supplementing the play of Conroy and probably Coleman at midfield.
How Mayo adapt to the absence of McGarrity is the selectors’ conundrum.
Against Roscommon, veteran David Heaney got the nod over Tom Parsons (more than ten years his junior) for his greater diligence, and maturity. Anyone of those already mentioned will join him if McGarrity is out. Seamus O’Shea has been impressing for Breaffy of late and will be considered. But mobility is essential.
THE developing nature of Mayo under John O’Mahony is encapsulated in the current defensive structure. Only one of the back line of last year’s Connacht final at McHale Park — which Galway won by a point — lined out against Roscommon . . . Keith Higgins.
Injury denied Tom Cunniffe and goalkeeper David Clarke their places. Kieran Conroy, and James Nallen were on the bench, Colm Boyle has been out of the picture for some time while Heaney, who started at centre-half back, has been moved to midfield.
There were similar changes the previous year when Galway won their first round clash in a canter at Pearse Stadium. Interestingly, McGarrity was missing that day too.
Like Cunniffe, Liam O’Malley of the league side also missed the semi-final, and is unlikely to have recovered from injury in time for Sunday’s final.
Donal Vaughan, who replaced him, performed creditably at left corner with Keith Higgins taking over from O’Malley for his first game of the season. Between them in the vital full-back berth is the solid if unspectacular Ger Cafferkey.
They face the daunting task of subduing man of the match in the semi-final, Sean Armstrong, Michael Meehan and almost certainly Nicky Joyce at left corner. All three are scorers, sharp and incisive, and will certainly pose a greater threat than came from the Roscommon full-forward line.
The league experiment of shifting Andy Moran to the half-back line has been a success. By example, the experienced Ballaghaderreen man steadies jangling nerves. The selectors might have had second thoughts about his defensive role after Moran’s nine-point haul against Burrishoole two weeks ago. But is there a more capable defender?
Peadar Gardiner and Trevor Howley, in the centre, are the main contenders to fill out that line, and they come eyeball to eyeball with Joe Bergin, Padraic Joyce and Cormac Bane, who complete a formidable line-up of scoring talent. Elaboration is unnecessary. Mayo know what they face and the fire and vigour that is needed to limit the threat.
The selectors are unlikely to alter the attacking unit that started so efficiently against Roscommon. Pat Harte, Trevor Mortimer and Alan Dillon in the half-forward line will have Declan Meehan, Diarmuid Blake and Gareth Bradshaw breathing down their backs.
Greater use of his physicality at full-forward by Barry Moran should create essential breaks for Aidan Kilcoyne and Aidan O’Shea in the corners. They will need those breaks to navigate around the stubborn barrier which Finian Hanley, Damien Burke and Niall Coyne present. If he is not among the first six, Conor Mortimer will be straining at the leash on the bench, and before the game is out the selectors may be forced to avail of his hunger.
There is talk that McGarrity may yet play some part in the final. Even so, the psychological effect of that injury will be a drawback.
When the two last met in the league, Galway had it all wrapped up at half-time, and could afford the luxury of a penalty miss by Michael Meehan.
In a remarkable transformation Mayo won the match and dealt a serious blow to Galway’s title aspirations. Both should derive some lessons from that meeting. Galway will have learned that no game is over until the final whistle; Mayo, that no setback is insurmountable.
Most of the advantages lie with Galway on Sunday: Pearse Stadium, the sharpening effect of their struggle with Sligo — who showed on Saturday why they were so difficult to shake off in the semi-final — and, principally, the stinging comments made by television analysts about their poor performance on that occasion which they are eager to confound.
Mayo, on the other hand, have only their runaway victories over New York and Roscommon to recommend them. It¹s not their fault that the opposition crumbled before their eyes. They could, however, have done with a more searching warmer.
But is the name Galway not enough to motivate them? Mayo have played them often enough to know what it takes to beat their old rivals in any competition on any ground. Nothing we say will inspire them. Only in their own hearts can victory be shaped.
We think it will. In this the 75th championship battle between them we believe Mayo are good enough to surmount the handicap of McGarrity¹s injury and go on capture their 37th victory.