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5 talking points ahead of today's Connacht final between Mayo and Galway

The big game at Croke Park today throws-in at 1.30pm.

Mayo’s Jordan Flynn and Shane Walsh of Galway during the 2020 championship clash.
Mayo’s Jordan Flynn and Shane Walsh of Galway during the 2020 championship clash.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

1. Galway bid to avoid third straight Connacht final defeat

1937 WAS THE last time Galway lost three Connacht finals in-a-row, a feat they’ll match on Sunday if Mayo prevail in Croke Park today.

jordan-flynn-and-shane-walsh Mayo’s Jordan Flynn and Shane Walsh of Galway during the 2020 championship clash. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Padraic Joyce’s first championship game in charge of the Tribesmen last summer saw them fall by a point to Mayo in the provincial decider. In Kevin Walsh’s final campaign a year earlier, they lost the final by four to Roscommon in Salthill. 

The Tribesmen were last crowned Connacht champions in 2018, when they overcame the Rossies by four in the decider.

“Mayo have won it, our lads haven’t won it,” Joyce said this week. “We’d be hoping our lads have a bit more hunger for it when the time comes around again.”

2. Match-ups

One of the most interesting aspects heading into this game is assessing how either side will match-up. Shane Walsh is likely to be tracked by Paddy Durcan, who’ll look to put him on the back foot by attacking all afternoon.

Positioning Walsh in the full-forward line would give James Horan a dilemma: Does he sacrifice Durcan or give Lee Keegan the man-marking duties? The latter is likely, given how importance Duran’s energy is for Mayo from the half-back line. 

Will Joyce trust Sean Mulkerrin to take on Aidan O’Shea? How will Galway’s corner-backs Liam Silke and Sean Kelly fare against the raw pace of Ryan O’Donoghue and Tommy Conroy? Paul Kelly or Cathal Sweeney will be tasked with monitoring Eoghan McLaughlin’s frequent bursts up the wing.

And who’ll win the midfield battle, where any four of Paul Conroy, Matthew Tierney, Peter Cooke (Galway), Matthew Ruane, Diarmuid O’Connor, Jordan Flynn and Conor Loftus (Mayo) will occupy?

Stephen Coen could be the man assigned to take Damien Comer, with Oisin Mullin taking Cooke if he lines out at 11.

Horan will need to carefully select which Mayo half-forwards have the legs to follow the dangerous runs of wing-backs Kieran Molloy and Johnny Heaney. There are plenty of subplots to keep an eye on when the ball is throw-in.

eoghan-mclaughlin Speed merchant Eoghan McLaughlin will be hoping to hurt Galway from deep. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

3. Will Croker suit Mayo more?

Given that the All-Ireland semi-finals and final will take place at Croke Park, getting an extra game at the venue will do the winners no harm. 

There’s a feeling that Mayo’s athleticism is better suited to headquarters, with Oisin Mullin, Durcan, McLaughlin, Ruane, Conroy and O’Donoghue all set to benefit from the wide open spaces. 

But Galway have dynamic runners too. Their side is built on a powerful half-back line, while Cooke and Tierney are exceptional athletes. If Galway can isolate Walsh and Comer in one-on-one scenarios and that pair bring their shooting boots, Joyce’s team can get joy out of the Mayo defence. 

The return of Diarmuid O’Connor from injury is another boost for Mayo and his fitness levels are made for Croker. 

4. Galway’s tougher test to date

Galway endured a difficult league campaign that ended in relegation after Monaghan snatched victory in extra-time, but getting four Division 1 games under their belt would undoubtedly have benefited them. 

They faced top tier opponents Roscommon in the Connacht semi-final and looked stronger as the game wore on. Granted, the heavy beating they shipped to Kerry in May was painful, but Galway have responded impressively.

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In contrast, Mayo spent the league beating Meath, Down, Westmeath and Clare, before enjoying championship wins over Leitrim and Sligo. It’s difficult to know where they stand after those games against lower calibre opposition.

After six competitive games, the 2020 All-Ireland finalists finally get a proper test of their credentials. How they fare will tell us much about their All-Ireland prospects.

ryan-odonoghue Ryan O'Donoghue is kicking the Mayo frees in the absence of Cillian O'Connor. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

5. Free-taking duties

The absence of Cillian O’Connor through injury meant that, for the first time in a decade, Mayo had to search for a free-taker. Ryan O’Donoghue put his hand up to assume the placed ball responsibilities from the championship’s all-time leading scorer, and to date he’s looked reliable. 

But facing Galway in Croke Park is a new level entirely, even if the Belmullet man kicked frees as a Mayo minor in the past.

Galway have two dead-eye free-takers in Walsh and Tierney. The former carried an injury into the Roscommon game and after a couple of early misses, Tierney took over the right-sided frees and nailed every one in tough conditions. 

Joyce may decide to assign Walsh to frees on the left side, with Tierney taking them on right. 

If this game goes down to the wire, a missed free could turn out to be the difference. 

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About the author:

Kevin O'Brien

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