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Monday 19 November 2018

Mayo to win war in west

Connacht SFC q-f Mayo v Galway (Castlebar, Tom 4.0, RTÉ 2)

TWO TRIBES: Mayo goalkeeper David Clarke and Galway sharpshooter Damien Comer will come face to face in Castlebar tomorrow. Pic: Sportsfile
TWO TRIBES: Mayo goalkeeper David Clarke and Galway sharpshooter Damien Comer will come face to face in Castlebar tomorrow. Pic: Sportsfile

Rarely, since the birth of the qualifier era 17 years ago, has a first round clash of football heavyweights elicited such a fanfare of febrile expectation.

Will Galway 'bate' Mayo? Will Mayo banish the doubts that always seem to assail them at this time of year?

Seán Cavanagh's post-retirement forays into punditry haven't made him a favourite around Castlebar, so maybe it was no surprise to hear his latest Sunday Game prediction that Mayo would fail to reach the 'Super 8s' in July (not alone lose to Galway tomorrow).

His comparison of Mayo under Stephen Rochford to the Tyrone of 2010/11 - a team that fell twice at the quarter-final stage to Dublin - doesn't stack up.

Near-equals

In 2011 especially, they were blessed to only lose by seven ... whereas Mayo, for all their fallibilities, have consistently been near-equals with a Dublin team far better than its 2011 model.

But here's the key: Mayo in September can go tantalisingly close. Whereas Mayo in May?

Truth is, we just can't be sure how they'll fare against such a physically forceful, in-form, well-drilled and increasingly confident Galway team.

On league form, it's a no-brainer: any repeat of the February-March trend and the visitors will win pulling up.

But this is not the league.

On the recent early-summer evidence, Galway would also prevail, just as they have previously in June 2016 and '17.

But those defeats have fanned a desire in Mayo to silence their latter-day nemesis from the west. As Chris Barrett noted last month: "It's important to beat Galway, just for ourselves".

It is perhaps equally important from a strategic perspective: for this Mayo team to awake on Monday morning to a vista of four qualifier rounds and three 'Super 8' contests, simply to get back to an All-Ireland semi-final, would be scarcely ideal.

And yet they have, in each of the last two summers, negotiated detours almost as lengthy.

For now, though, it's all about Sunday.

Myriad pundits have questioned Mayo's flickering All-Ireland credentials because of their high mileage; yet as one observer pointed out, the problem with Mayo right now is not enough mileage for a handful of players who missed much if not all of the league.

Mayo have tended to get better with more games, but will they be up to speed in time for Galway?

It's perhaps the greatest doubt about them here. Their recently dire record in Elverys MacHale Park is another.

Cannonball

Then you've the king-sized conundrum: in the absence of Lee Keegan (who won't tog, we've been assured) have they anyone capable of man-marking the human cannonball that is Damien Comer?

Perhaps not; but they found a way (eventually) to deal with Kieran Donaghy last August.

Looking at the official line-ups it appears the mind games have started, with eye-catching omissions in the Mayo defence and Galway attack.

Whoever starts, it's debatable if everyone will finish. The battle will be very physical with the potential for bouts of anarchy. Our hunch? Mayo's 'front door' need will get them through the trenches and out the other side.

BOYLESPORTS ODDS: Mayo 5/6 Draw 7/1 Galway 11/8 VERDICT: Mayo

  • Connacht SFC q-f Mayo v Galway (Castlebar, Tom 4.0, RTÉ 2)

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