Friday 21 October 2016

New green-and-red era to start with same result


(Pearse Stadium, Tomorrow 4.0, live RTÉ 2)

IT might sound strange to say this of a team that has contested two All-Ireland deciders and five semi-finals in the previous four summers but ... well, the jury is out on Mayo's 2015 model. That is not meant as an insult, merely a reflection of the uncertainty that surrounds every transition from one successful regime (September caveats aside) to a new management team.

The fact that Pat Holmes and Noel Connelly put down a meandering league, culminating in narrow failure to reach the semi-finals, has heightened the uncertainty. Can Mayo be even better than they were under James Horan? Could they be worse? Time to start finding out ...

After a ten-week break they return to Salthill - scene of the 2013 crime, when Mayo pulverised Galway by 17 points. This will surely be a whole lot closer, mostly because Galway can't be as bad and surely won't be remotely so porous, now that Kevin Walsh's canny hand is at the tiller.

Still, the recent vibes from Castlebar sound promising. Thirty-three of their 34-man squad were available, Evan Regan the only absentee.

There is obvious continuity from last year's semi-final replay against Kerry, with 13 players who featured in some part of that Gaelic Grounds epic pencilled in to start.

And yet there are several intriguing features too. In goals, David Clarke wins the head-to-head battle with Robbie Hennelly. Kevin Keane is rewarded for his spring revival with the No 3 jersey, Ger Cafferkey losing out. Donal Vaughan is another absentee, Chris Barrett returning.

At midfield, Tom Parsons will make his first SFC start since 2010. Up front there are two O'Connors - Diarmuid rewarded for his sparkling club form, while Cillian returns after his knee issue - while there is still room for one thirtysomething veteran, Andy Moran instead of Alan Dillon.

Truth is, there are more question marks about Galway, compounded by the loss of Shane Walsh with a hand injury suffered in last week's fatal car accident.

They remain a Division Two side hoping to punch above their weight here. They have one obvious advantage - two championship run-outs - but the New York trip has zero form graph relevance while the most significant pointer from their eight-point win over Leitrim was the 42 frees conceded by the visitors. Portents of a new mean, maroon streak, perhaps?

ODDS: Galway 23/10 Draw 15/2 Mayo 1/2


MAYO (SF v Galway): D Clarke; C Barrett, K Keane, K Higgins; L Keegan, T Cunniffe, C Boyle; S O'Shea, T Parsons; D O'Connor, A O'Shea, K McLoughlin; A Moran, C O'Connor, J Doherty.


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