Galway v Mayo, Pearse Stadium, Sunday, 4pm
By James McMahon
Pearse Stadium in Salthill is the venue as those age-old rivals Galway and Mayo lock horns again in provincial combat.
After getting to last year’s All-Ireland decider, many pundits are of the view that Mayo are at last well primed to go a step further, and if goalscoring can become more of a habit then the years of heartache since 1951 may finally be banished.
Getting out of Connacht will be a test, but it’s an examination they should relish. If the Tribesemen are overcome at the weekend, Roscommon, under the shrewd stewardship of John Evans, lie in wait in the provincial semi-final on 16 June.
As for Galway, well it’s five years since they won a Nestor Cup and while their stock rose again on that rain-sodden day against Kerry in the All-Ireland quarter-final, since then it’s been a case of disappointing provincial defeats and continuing abject failure in the qualifiers.
Another All-Ireland U-21 success, a second in three years, is a sign that better days are on the horizon. Nevertheless, the side that will take the field on Sunday has a familiar look about it, with manager Alan Mulholland sprinkling his selection with those who tasted underage glory.
Manus Breathnach makes his championship debut between the posts, while Colin Forde takes over at full-back in place of the injured Finian Hanley. Fiontan O'Curraoin at midfield and Thomas Flynn in the half-forward line featured prominently in the victory over Cork a fortnight ago.
Injuries to key players have concentrated the minds of the Mayo management ahead of Sunday’s clash, though coach James Horan is keen to stress that there is depth to the squad and that an excellent medical team is in place to deal with whatever eventualities.
Andy Moran has not played since the win over Down last August after tearing a cruciate, but is named among the subs, as is Alan Dillon, who has been out with a groin strain. Richie Feeney is another notable name on the bench.
Two players make their championship debuts, with Cathal Carolan starting in the half-forward line, while Darren Coen lines out at No 15.
The O’Shea brothers will occupy the midfield role, and their battle with the maroon pairing of Niall Coleman and Fintan O'Curraoin will be interesting. Michael Meehan, now fully recovered from injury, gives Galway a big boost in a forward division that is also well served by the presence of Thomas Flynn, Sean Armstrong and Paul Conroy.
Mayo’s attack is equally adept, with Messrs Moran and Dillon options to spring from the bench.
It goes without saying that Sunday’s match is crucial for both sides, with Galway hoping that it can act as a springboard for a more sustained effort in the months ahead, while Mayo look to signal their intentions early that they can be serious force again come August and September.
In 2011, both counties met in a rather dour provincial clash that Mayo won deservedly. One hopes the fare this weekend will be of a higher standard, where the visitors’ greater know how will be the deciding factor in determining the outcome.
Galway: Manus Breathnach, Johnny Duane, Colin Forde, Gary Sweeney, Gareth Bradshaw (captain), Keith Kelly, Gary Sice, Niall Coleman, Fiontan O'Curraoin, Thomas Flynn, Paul Conroy, Conor Doherty, Sean Armstrong, Michael Meehan, Danny Cummins
Mayo: David Clarke, Kevin Keane, Ger Cafferkey, Keith Higgins, Lee Keegan, Donal Vaughan, Colm Boyle, Aidan O'Shea, Seamus O'Shea, Kevin McLoughlin, Cillian O'Connor, Cathal Carolan, Enda Varley, Alan Freeman, Darren Coen.
Live television coverage of Cavan v Armagh and Galway v Mayo on The Sunday Game Live from 13:15 on Sunday 19 May on RTÉ Two and RTÉ.ie (Ireland only).
Live radio coverage of all the day’s action featuring Galway v Mayo from 14:00 on RTÉ Radio 1, RTÉ RnaG and RTÉ.ie (Worldwide).
Highlights and analysis of all the weekend’s action on The Sunday Game from 21:30 on Sunday 19 May on RTÉ Two and RTÉ.ie (Ireland only).