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Little separating old enemies

Sean Rice
Mayo’s David Brady welcomes Galway's Niall Coleman
FRIENDLY RIVALRY? Mayo’s David Brady welcomes Galway counterpart Niall Coleman during the league semi-final clash between the two sides in 2006. Pic: Sportsfile

Little separating old enemies

Sean RiceSean Rice

THERE is little to be added to the history of Mayo-Galway rivalry that has not already been documented. We know what their clashes evoke, what attracts the masses.
The passion of their spats, the hot thrill of excitement, the psychological imperative to be triumphant are perpetuated in every championship encounter. Theirs is a constant test of mental and physical strength …with a record of alternating results.
In weighing up their chances, the most recent league semi-final will be a consideration for the two, but scarcely serious enough to be measured in the same category as the championship.  That docile contest told us nothing about the real form of the two teams, or the intensity with which they motivate themselves for the championship.
Riddled with error and contradiction, it is relevant only in so far as a victory was recorded over Galway. Championship appeal, however, bears no resemblance to league. Sunday’s is the real thing.
The advent of John O’Mahony is the biggest change in the Mayo structure since their last championship meeting. The Ballaghaderreen man is now attempting to do for Mayo what he has already done for Galway. Some of those whom he guided to unimaginable success will be batting against him on Sunday, and there is nothing each does not know about the other, how they operate and think, and react.
Nor has team personnel changed much in the intervening 12 months. Mayo did not have David Brady, Ciaran McDonald or Trevor Mortimer in last year’s line-up. The three have been out of action throughout the league also, and were later joined on the injury list by Ronan McGarrity and Trevor Mortimer. The Shrule man made a brief appearance in a couple of challenges recently but is still a long way from the degree of fitness necessary to make an impact.
In the circumstances, to have reached the final of the league was a bigger achievement than for which management has been given credit. In almost every game they experimented, moving players here and there in a bid to find their most suitable positions.  By the end of the competition we were still not sure who would occupy the vital positions, and that is the intriguing aspect of Sunday’s showdown – what the Mayo lineout will be. Who will man the central positions?
It looked early in the league as if young James Kilcullen was being moulded as a full-back. He has the attributes, in height and strength. The experience and confidence would come in time, we believed. But management seems to have lost faith in Kilcullen’s full-back potential. His slow adjustment to the position, which demands different skills than those employed at midfield where he plays for his club, have forced them to continue their experiments up to as recently as Sunday week last in their challenge with Kildare.
In the second half of that trial, Billy Joe Padden took over at full-back for the first time from an out-of-sorts Pat Navin, who had shown promise in a previous challenge with Clare. David Heaney stepped back from midfield to take charge at centre half. The versatile James Nallen switched to right half back, and Pat Harte joined David Brady at midfield.
These experiments will have been prompted by the quality of Sunday’s opposition. Padraig Joyce at full-forward has recaptured his best form in years, and his vast experience demands more vigilance that the likes of James Kilcullen have yet acquired.
Throughout the league the selectors used a horses-for-courses gambit with Liam O’Malley and Keith Higgins each taking responsibility at full-back in addition to Kilcullen and Navin. David Heaney has also had some success on Joyce in previous outings.
If selected at centre half-back next Sunday, the Swinford man will be faced by either Jarlath Fallon, who has regained some of his old form, or Cormac Bane, Galway’s rising star. The Kildare test may have been sufficiently convincing to leave Padden at full-back and Heaney in the half line.
That pre-supposes that David Brady will be at midfield alongside either James Nallen or Pat Harte. But half a game is scarcely sufficient time to prove Brady’s match fitness. Nallen might yet be their choice.

MAYO’S MIDFIELD DIFFICULTIES
GALWAY have a few options for midfield. Joe Bergin, the consummate all-rounder, may partner Paul Geraghty or Barry Cullinane or Niall Coleman or Diarmuid Blake. Depending on the form of the others, Bergin could be given a half-forward role, but wherever he operates, he is one to be watched. Without Ronan McGarrity, Mayo are at a loss at midfield, and the match could be decided on the outcome of the two duels in this area.
Nor can we say with any degree of certainty who will hold what position in the Mayo forward line. For sure, Conor Mortimer, Ger Brady, Andy Moran and Alan Dillon will, together with either Kevin O’Neill, Aidan Kilcoyne, Trevor Mortimer or Aidan Campbell constitute Mayo’s attacking lineup… but in what positions is difficult to determine. All are adaptable and that’s why the selectors have left us guessing.
In Finian Hanley, Galway have a strong, capable full-back, and who the selectors choose at full-forward could be any of three or four players. Alan Dillon, Trevor Mortimer, Ger Brady and Kevin O’Neill have held the position with varying degrees of success. Maybe Brady will be given the opportunity to test his not inconsiderable strength on the Salthill man.
Niall Coyne is a new and tough contender for centre half-back, but Galway may decide to re-install Diarmuid Blake in that position whose toughness caused Mayo some concern last year. Kieran Fitzgerald, Declan Meehan and Michael Comer are also trusted defenders.
In addition to Joyce and Fallon in the forward line, Galway also rely on the brilliance of Michael Meehan, the battling nature of Matthew Clancy and on the fleet-footed Nicky Joyce and Sean Armstrong. As a unit they pose a lot of danger, and Keith Higgins, Liam O’Malley and Peadar Gardiner have already sampled their collective power ... and dealt with it confidently.
This is a battle of huge significance to each manager. Peter Ford’s duration at the helm in Galway may be curtailed by defeat. And it is difficult to argue with the universal belief that victory could earn for John O’Mahony the extra handful of votes he needs to open up a new career ... in the Dáil.
It could be decided on the less attractive minutiae of Gaelic football – trading of spoiling tactics – denying space to the man running for the return pass, dispossessing opponents, breaking the ball at midfield, winning those breaks, suffocating every attempted pass, tactics employed so effectively by Tyrone in their All-Ireland success.
It could be down to that. They are so evenly matched that a point or two will decide the issue … if it does not end in a return test at MacHale Park.

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