SUNDAY 25 JULY
Connacht SFC final
Mayo v Galway, Croke Park, 1.30pm
Live blogs on RTÉ.ie and the RTÉ News app, with video highlights on social media.
Live on RTÉ One and RTÉ Player from 1pm.
Highlights on The Sunday Game on RTÉ2 and RTÉ Player from 9.30pm.
Viewers outside Ireland can watch the game on GAAGO.
Live commentary on Sunday Sport on RTE Radio 1 from 1pm.
Sunny spells with well scattered showers. Quite warm too with highest temperatures of 22 to 25 degrees in a light or moderate northerly breeze. For more go to met.ie.
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From west to east - but not the first time
We are nearly 100 years on from the last time a Connacht decider was played at Croke Park. Yes, it did happen, with much controversy in the air. The replayed provincial decider of 1922 between Galway and Sligo took place on Jones' Road in September 1923. A replay came about, not because the game was drawn, but on foot of six grounds of appeal brought forward by Galway after they lost the game by a point.
Sligo prevailed on a 3-01 to 1-06 scoreline and the following week they accounted for Tipperary in the All-Ireland semi-final. The men from the Yeats County were through to a first-ever All-Ireland decider - or so they thought.
The Tribesmen however, were determined that they had a strong case, highlighting the "illegality of one member of the Sligo team" and other issues relating to player conduct and some disputed scores.
The Connacht Council found in favour of Galway's request; Sligo's subsequent appeal to the GAA's Central Council fell on deaf ears. And so the Connacht final replay would now also also be an All-Ireland semi-final, much to the annoyance of Tipperary who felt that they should get a crack at the Tribesmen should they prevail.
Tipp argued their case and got no joy.
Galway edged out Sligo by 2-04 to 2-02 in the replay at Croker.
A week later, it was Dublin who landed the big prize, beating the Connacht champions 0-06 to 0-04.
And so Mayo have given up home advantage in the 2021 decider. A crowd limit of 18,000 will be in attendance at GAA HQ, with Galway looking to equal Mayo's haul of 47 Nestor Cup wins.
More importantly, however, it's another step on the championship road - the winners will have a date with the Leinster champions in the All-Ireland semi-final on 14 August.
Where do Mayo actually stand?
No Cillian O'Connor. Question marks around the fitness of Lee Keegan and Kevin McLoughlin. The former will start the final, while the latter and Eoghan McLoughlin who missed the Sligo game, are still sidelined.
Diarmuid O'Connor has been picked to start his first championship game of the year, having recovered from a hamstring injury. Also making his summer bow is O'Connor's Ballintubber colleague, Bryan Walsh, with both men picked at wing-forward.
Rob Hennelly is back in goal in place of Rory Byrne who was a little shaky early on against Leitrim, Enda Hession makes way for Lee Keegan at corner back, while Padraig O'Hora keeps his place at No 3.
Darren Coen and Jordan Flynn, who sustained injuries the last day, miss out.
The Covid issue within the Mayo camp was obviously a concern - still their strength and depth was their to see in their annihilation of Leitrim. Manager James Horan will be glad that Lee Keegan and Diarmuid O'Connor are fit again. Mayo's scoring rate in 2021 boasts high figures and they have yet to lose a game in this calendar year.
That said, apart from Westmeath and Clare giving them some bother in Division 2, they still have to face a stern examination. Galway will provide that. Who will be deployed to keep an eye on Shane Walsh? How far out the field will Aidan O'Shea be positioned?
Former Mayo star Willie Joe Padden does not see the Connacht SFC final moving to Croke Park as a disadvantage for Mayo ahead of Sunday's battle with Galway @MayoGAA @Galway_GAA @ConnachtGAA #rtegaa #rtenews #gaa pic.twitter.com/GRcX9LC9li— RTÉ GAA (@RTEgaa) July 20, 2021
Mayo's hard-running game will be suited to Croke Park. In fact the Green and Red will be happy enough that they are heading east for this decider. Since the loss to Donegal in the 2012 All-Ireland final, only the all-conquering Dubs have managed to see off the westerners on Jones' Road.
Earlier this week, former Green and Red star Willie Joe Padden told RTÉ Sport that Mayo are happy enough heading to Croker, a home from home if you will.
This is Mayo's big test. How will they manage without Cillian O'Connor in a game of real import? We are told that others will have to step up, namely Aidan O'Shea, but much focus will be on the inside forward line of Tommy Conroy, Darren McHale, and Ryan O'Donoghue. Can that trio impact the scoreboard in a telling way? Can Conroy, after failing to ignite in last year's All-Ireland final, atone in style?
Joyce's Galway keen to make a statement
The Tribesmen are hoping to avoid a third Connacht final defeat on the trot, a fate that befell them in the years 1935-37, when Mayo were their conquerors. For manager Pádraic Joyce it's now about getting that signature victory.
2021 has been a mixed bag for the Tribesmen, starting with a heavy league defeat against Kerry. They steadied the ship thereafter, with a win over Roscommon and then offering some stern resistance when going down against Dublin. The extra-time loss to Monaghan in the Division 1 relegation play-off will have hurt, a game they should have managed much better.
Three weeks ago against Roscommon in the Connacht semi, they met a Rossies defensive wall that was hard to break down, but they managed to do that with goals at crucial times for a seven-point win. An injury to Shane Walsh during the second-half at Hyde Park was concerning but the Kilkerrin-Clonberne clubman is fit to resume his roaming full-forward role.
Walsh is key to Galway's prospects as is the likes of Sean Walsh, Damien Comer and Paul Conroy. If that quartet fire, Joyce's team will have real chance of taking back the Nestor Cup. Quite simply they need to be more clinical in front of goal, while also cutting down on some of the soft scores they conceded to Roscommon. It was a game they should have won easily.
"We were probably in control of the game for a lot of periods which is satisfying but we just didn't finish the game out as early as we thought," was the manager's reaction to RTÉ Sport afterwards.
As to the final moving out of MacHale Park, Joyce is happy enough to be heading to the capital.
Speaking at the Galway press day recently, he said: "Castlebar is the same size field, obviously the stands are bigger in Croke Park and it's a bit further up the road but we don’t mind where we play them as it will allow both sets of supporters go and watch their teams played after the year and a half that they have all had."
In team news, Cathal Sweeney is named on the Galway half-forward line in place of of Finnian Ó Laoí, having replaced the same player late on the semi-final.
Mayo: R Hennelly; L Keegan, P O'Hora, M Plunkett; P Durcan, O Mullin, S Coen; M Ruane, C Loftus; B Walsh, A O’Shea, D O’Connor; T Conroy, D McHale, R O’Donoghue.
Galway: C Gleeson; S Kelly, S Mulkerrin, L Silke; K Molloy, D McHugh, J Heaney; P Conroy, M Tierney; D Comer, P Cooke, C Sweeney; R Finnerty, S Walsh, P Kelly.