First shots of 2018 to be fired in Galway-Mayo rivalry
Galway have held the upper hand over Mayo in Connacht football over the past two years. But the question remains, are they a better team?
On one hand, it’s a simple argument. Galway have met Mayo in the past two Connacht championships and beaten on them both occasions. That makes the Tribesmen the better team, right?
Well, it’s not quite as simple as that, of course.
Kevin Walsh’s side went on to win the 2016 provincial title, but they failed to build on that when they were beaten by Tipperary in the subsequent All-Ireland quarter-final.
Last year they lowered the Green Above the Red again, but worse was to follow when they lost to Roscommon in the Connacht final and were blitzed by Kerry in Croke Park.
Mayo, by contrast, recovered from both of those beatings - two of only three Championship defeats they’ve suffered outside of Croke Park dating back to 2010 - to make two All-Ireland finals in-a-row, losing both to Dublin by a single point, the first after a replay.
So who is the better side? On balance, it seems that Mayo are. They’re the only team that have truly troubled the all-conquering Dubs during their three Sam Maguire wins back-to-back since 2015, twice taking them to replays.
It seems that it took defeat in Connacht to wake them up and remind them that they were in the Championship. Once they entered the last chance saloon of the qualifiers they became a different animal.
Galway players and fans might not like to hear that, but, starting this weekend, they have the chance to start overhauling Mayo and maybe establishing themselves as Connacht’s number one team (and argument Roscommon are involved in too).
Several defensive puzzles remain to be solved for Walsh, but in forwards Damien Comer and Shane Walsh they have two real gems - the sort of direct running players that cause opposition defences sleepless nights.
Mayo’s five in-a-row of provincial crowns between ’11 and ’15 push them ahead of Galway in the West, 46 Nestor Cups wins to 45. From their 12 competitive meetings, League and Championship, over the past ten years, the Green Above the Red lead eight-four.
But the Tribesmen like to point to their nine All-Irelands - three times as many as their neighbours.
On Sunday Galway have the chance of putting together a three in-a-row of competitive wins over Mayo, with a League meeting at Pearse Stadium. So far they have adjusted to life back in Division 1 well with wins over Tyrone and Donegal.
A third against Mayo would virtually ensure their stay in the top flight is extended for another season at least and gives them a chance of making the final. Dublin and Kerry are the only two other unbeaten counties in the section.
Mayo have been slow starters in the League under Stephen Rochford so their opening day win over Monaghan on the road will have been welcome. Their disappointing loss in Castlebar to a 13-man Kingdom side means they have a 50-50 record.
In the seven-game sprint that is the Allianz Football League points are precious and Rochford will know that a second defeat on the bounce will leave him looking over his shoulder at the trap door out of Division 1.
If Galway are to take over as Connacht’s number one team, pushing ahead of Mayo and Roscommon, who are playing in Division 2 this year, this is a game they will want to win.
Then there will be the matter of the provincial quarter-final date in Castlebar later this year.
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