All-Ireland SFC preliminary quarter-final: Galway v Mayo (Pearse Stadium, Salthill, Galway, 3pm Sunday)
TWO big beasts, both sailing serenely along towards the All-Ireland SFC quarter-finals – but both sprung leaks last weekend, and one of them will be sunk for good on Sunday.
As they aim to sink or swim, the sense is that Galway are, ever so slightly, better-placed to reach the last eight. Not so much because of ‘home advantage’, which can be a double-edged sword in Connacht, but due to their greater consistency.
Padraic Joyce’s men won Connacht, saw off Tyrone, and eased away from Westmeath, before being beaten by a driven Armagh team, out for revenge. No shame in that last result.
In contrast, while Mayo probably produced the performance of the summer so far in stunning Kerry down in Killarney, one swallow doesn’t make a summer.
Since then, they limped past Louth, then slumped to a loss against Cork to find themselves in this predicament. Before that, they could not carry the favourites tag against Roscommon and lost their Connacht quarter-final on home soil.
It’s no surprise that they’ve called up former captain Cillian O’Connor, who notched 2-6 for his club Ballintubber the evening before the Cork defeat.
Galway have named their current skipper, the brilliant attacking full-back Sean Kelly, in their startin side, despite him wearing a protective boot after that defeat by Armagh.
All-Star full-forward Damien Comer also comes in, in place of Cathal Sweeney, while John Maher returns at midfield, having replaced Billy Mannion last weekend, with Cillian McDaid slotting back into the half-back line.
Galway are clearly going for it, as they have to.
Mayo may need to gamble on Cillian O’Connor at some stage too. Still only 31, O’Connor has always been a scoring machine, but various injuries have made him malfunction in recent seasons.
He never received the credit he merited as an attacking phenomenon – averaging almost seven points per game over 65 senior Championship appearances, his scoring tally reaching 31-356.
Similarly, many of the jibes and questions thrown at Mayo’s mental strength, or perceived lack of it, in the previous decade were patently unfair, some of them personally motivated.
However, their heads must be mangled after those last two matches.
Given the talent Kevin McStay and Stephen Rochford have at their disposal, how can you explain labouring so much at home to Louth and then losing to Cork?
Sure, the new, packed schedule is tough. Not a single team won all three group games.
But Mayo have sunk low since the high of shocking Kerry.
Mayo can at least attempt to re-float their boat buoyed by the knowledge that their matches against Galway are almost invariably close.
The only time there has been more than a goal between the teams in their last seven Championship meetings was in the 2021 provincial decider, which Mayo won by six points.
Galway appeared to overtake them as Connacht’s big guns, beating them en route to the provincial crown, then reaching the All-Ireland Final.
Yet Mayo have re-asserted themselves to some extent this year, with a win in the Connacht League, a draw in the National League, and then victory in the Division One Final of that latter competition.
Given how vulnerable they can be in Castlebar, Mayo won’t be overly concerned about travelling either, although obviously they’d have preferred not to meet Galway, and vice versa.
The Mayo management have mostly asked the same men to bail themselves out of the mess their last under-performance produced. Only one alteration has been announced, with Ballina’s Sam Callinan replacing Donnacha McHugh at right half-back.
As well as Cillian O’Connor, the Mayo matchday 26 includes Tommy Conroy, Eoghan McLaughlin, and Enda Hession; decent depth, obviously.
While Mayo did have the fabled ‘marquee forward’ in the 2010s, in the form of Cillian O’Connor, Galway have superior scoring power. Understandably, much of the attention has been focussed on Walsh and Comer, but Matthew Tierney is their top scorer in the Championship so far, with 2-13, 2-9 of that tally from play.
Peter Cooke, an under-rated, under-the-radar half-forward, has 0-9, just behind Comer’s 1-8. They have Sweeney and Rob Finnerty, son of former Mayo star Anthony, on the bench.
In contrast, Mayo’s top scorer Ryan O’Donoghue has just 0-5 from play (plus 0-10 from placed balls – and they do all count).
With Kelly not fully fit, Galway will worry about containing Aidan O’Shea, but there’s enough quality around him to restrict the Breaffy man.
I wouldn’t wager a piece of eight on which of these old rivals will reach the quarter-finals – but the Tribesmen are due a win.
LAST TEN CHAMPIONSHIP MEETINGS:
2022: Galway 1-14 Mayo 0-16 (Connacht quarter-final)
2021: Mayo 2-14 Galway 2-8 (Connacht Final)
2020: Mayo 0-14 Galway 0-13 (Connacht Final)
2019: Mayo 2-13 Galway 1-13 (All-Ireland qualifier round 4)
2018: Galway 1-12 Mayo 0-12 (Connacht quarter-final)
2017: Galway 0-15 Mayo 1-11 (Connacht semi-final)
2016: Galway 1-12 Mayo 0-12 (Connacht semi-final)
2015: Mayo 1-15 Galway 2-8 (Connacht semi-final)
2014: Mayo 3-14 Galway 0-16 (Connacht Final)
2013: Mayo 4-16 Galway 0-11 (Connacht quarter-final).
GALWAY so far:
Galway 1-13 Roscommon 1-9 (Connacht semi-final)
Galway 2-20 Sligo 0-12 (Connacht Final)
Galway 0-16 Tyrone 0-13 (All-Ireland Group 2, round 1)
Galway 0-20 Westmeath 0-12 (All-Ireland Group 2, round 2)
Armagh 0-16 Galway 1-12 (All-Ireland Group 2, round 3).
MAYO so far:
Mayo 0-10 Roscommon 2-8 (Connacht quarter-final)
Kerry 0-17 Mayo 1-19 (All-Ireland Group 1, round 3)
Mayo 0-14 Louth 1-10 (All-Ireland Group 1, round 3)
Cork 1-14 Mayo 1-11 (All-Ireland Group 1, round 3)