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Who would have thought it?

Sport

I am fairly certain we will be approaching Pearse Stadium in 2007 with the usual caution. They haven’t and won’t go away, you know.

Jimmy Lyons

WHO would have thought it? Galway left marooned after a sortie on Salthill by a marauding bunch of inlanders more used to tranquil lakes than turbulent seas and their adjacent windblown land masses.
Well, quite a number thought it quite possible actually, most of whom had sat through Galway’s clumsy, cumbersome efforts, or at times lack of even that, in the recent Connacht Final. And especially those who watched that particular game stumble over itself towards a mercifully definite conclusion on TV. The personal space invading proximity of 35,000 hyperventilating partisans tends to blur the lines of objectivity, often transforming a close, if dour, game into a scintillating encounter, not so for the poor unfortunate Laz-e-boy yam.
A couple of aficionados, who also happen to be close acquaintances, just had to get their fix even in deepest France and had to admit that it was very much the low point of their annual migration, despite the satisfying outcome. And of course Galway, justifiably, took much of the blame.
So, most discerning football folk were very open to the possibility of a Galway team playing very much from blurred memory getting hijacked by a Westmeath squad on the up, if at times somewhat tortuously so.
Too many of Galway’s core enforcers have just been off-form, that so-desirous state which can be so tantalisingly elusive and even downright unattainable when you need it most. Much more important than fitness is form, as my first and perhaps most influential football sherpa pointed out to me aeons ago, and a few times since as well.
(We could very easily deviate into a pseudo-cultural/intellectual discussion here, something akin to the form, of a different sense, v function debate in art which as you know has divided GAA clubs for generations, so lets move on quickly. If you do want to get a thread going on it, please contact me independently and I will refer you you to the source - a man who will gladly argue the toss with you, as he is not at all averse to such jousts).
Anyway, back to the ditch, if a space can be found amidst all the opinion donors. As I have said, despite the massive odds available against Westmeath in this particular two horse stall-opener to next week’s equine fuelled mayhem, no sane observer of the championship scene would have risked even their slatted house on Galway.
Perhaps emanating from and residing in the centre of the country has given the Westmeath lads that sense of serene equilibrium which has meant they have treated all foes equally in recent years, be they from the capitals of Connacht, Ireland or even Little Britain.
On a more tangible note, they have a very solid defensive base, which as any of the great managers, O’Dwyer, Boylan, Cody, Kernan, to give just a few but very substantial examples, will tell you is not just desirable but essential to achievement of potential, irrespective of what bedazzling is effected further up the field. Even in horrendous defeat this year they conceded just 13 points - no rearguard collapse there. If they stick to their leechy game plan, and to hell with the aesthetic begrudgers, they can visit a bit of self-doubt upon the Dubs - and those two phenomena have never been great cauldron-fellows.
What of Galway and where does their rather meek, cap-tipping departure now leave Mayo? Well, it has to be some sort of a watershed for our neighbours, but perhaps not of the type being described by some. Will we really not see three or four of them again in maroon, or even white with maroon trimmings?
The obvious ones who one might imagine checking their mileometers are Joyce, Donnellan, Meehan the Elder and Savage. But these are not old men, and they have time and again proved themselves to be driven men. McGeeney is thirty-four and no less influential now than at any time over his past eight pressure-filled seasons.
The mass introduction of youth has never been found to be a totally reliable route forward. Even those often cited as proof of the efficacy of this approach, the magicians in green and gold in 1975 had the solidity of O’Keeffe and Lynch to balance their potentially brittle brio. A little r’n’r, a small realignment of the troops, those U-21 lads a year older and wiser and I am fairly certain we will be approaching Pearse Stadium in 2007 with the usual caution. They haven’t and won’t go away, you know.
Trying to gauge where Mayo stand now has certainly been rendered a bit more difficult by events on Saturday evening. Allowing for the fact that Galway should have been disposed of more easily in Castlebar, their subsequent travails
would indicate that we have, on a line through Westmeath and Offaly, some ground to make up on our next, almost frighteningly rejuvenated, opponents.
And that man already mentioned a couple of times earlier for differing reasons is stuck in the middle of it, demanding a fitting end to his Methuselahtic career. As if its demise is really imminent! Are we cute enough, never mind good enough, for him and his current conduits? I’m not one bit sure, not one bit.
Comments to sport@mayonews.ie

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