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Fun and games shorten the winter


GOING THEIR OWN WAYS Mayo manager James Horan and Roscommon manager Anthony Cunningham are pictured after Sunday’s Connacht SFC semi-final at Dr Hyde Park. Pic: Conor McKeown

Mike Finnerty

IF only we knew then what we know now.
It’s been exactly 10 months since we watched Mayo and Galway take their first tentative steps of the year in an FBD League match at MacHale Park.
Little did we know what the future held.
It was before we knew anything about Covid-19, Zoom calls, or even Conor Loftus’ potential as a midfielder.
That rollercoaster of a pre-season game, on a bitterly cold day in Castlebar, ended with Galway winning 3-2 on penalties after an enthralling match had ended 1-17 apiece.
Mayo had been six points up near the end of normal time but lost their way.
Galway reeled them in, forced extra-time, and before we knew it we were watching a penalty shoot-out at the ‘Bacon Factory’ end.
Eventually, after what seemed like hours and hours, everyone shook hands and went home.
“I’m disappointed with the result, the way it went, but it’s not everything,” James Horan told The Mayo News that day.
“But there was lots of stuff from the game that we’ll take. I thought some of the performances of some of our new guys today were exceptional.”
In hindsight, even back on January 12, Horan was looking to the future. Scouting for new talent and possibly thinking about the next stage of the life cycle for the best group of Mayo footballers that the county has produced since 1951.
Fast forward 10 months and the Mayo senior team as we knew it is changing before our eyes. It has been ever since the season restarted four weeks ago (again, against Galway) in Tuam Stadium when young turks like Oisin Mullin, Eoghan McLaughlin, Mark Moran and Tommy Conroy were given their heads. With Ryan O’Donoghue, Rory Brickenden, Jordan Flynn, Bryan Walsh all in the mix too.
That National League match last month was also the day that James Horan unveiled his plan to pair Conor Loftus with Matthew Ruane in the middle of the field.
And Mayo went to town on the Tribesmen.
Three wins from four games later (the one point defeat to Tyrone the only blot on the copybook), here we are. Preparing for the first Connacht Senior Championship Final to be played in November since 1924.
With Mayo and Galway about to go again.
“I think it’s a really exciting team, we need to give the boys space to express themselves,” Andy Moran told The Mayo News Football Podcast after watching Mayo beat Roscommon in the semi-final last Sunday.
“There’s been a transformation in terms of the starting team, there’s great experience on the sideline, so who knows where we might end up? You have to give it time.”
Moran has been around long enough, and experienced both sides of the coin against Galway often enough, to know that next Sunday’s final is likely to come down to a kick of the ball.
Plus, he is well aware that while Mayo have been out playing and beating Leitrim and the Rossies, Galway and Padraic Joyce have been busy making plans for them.
“The trap is set,” smiled Andy. “Let’s not dress it up, the trap is set. Galway didn’t become a bad team overnight. You saw it against Dublin [in the league last month], Galway are a good team. Mayo are a good team.
“How Mayo react to Galway changing their game-plan, how they react to Mayo’s huge pace, what the weather is like, the lack of atmosphere, what’s going to happen. . We don’t know!
“So we go into it very excited after today, but we go into it with a bit of caution as well.”
There will only be a few dozen people inside Pearse Stadium to see the game unfold but thousands all across the county, country and beyond will be glued to TVs and radios.
Because Mayo and Galway are still standing.
And the winter is getting shorter by the day.

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