Mid-summer has crept up on us quite stealthily, and with it comes the almost inevitable clash of Galway and Mayo in the Connacht championship, a semi-final encounter at Pearse Stadium (4pm) on Sunday that will carry its usual measures of intrigue, expectation and romance.
Last year, the most recent era of Mayo dominance against their old rivals was ended, when Galway – with the help of a spectacular Tom Flynn goal – carved out a 1-12 to 0-12 victory against their old foes in Castlebar.
Galway did go on to win the Connacht title, but unexpectedly came a cropper against Tipperary at the All-Ireland quarter-final stage, while Mayo went on the more scenic qualifying route before making it once more to Croke Park on All-Ireland final day, but alas the same outcome was to await them, as with so many times in the past.
Mayo did everything but win that All-Ireland final against Dublin, but the twin misfortunes of conceding two own-goals in the drawn match, and the catastrophic decision to drop goalkeeper David Clarke for the replay, meant another exit from the Jones’ Road venue without any silverware.
But while there were soundings of impending doom for Mayo in the Spring league campaign, Stephen Rochford’s side still ended up in a Division 1 mid-table position, thanks to wins over Kerry, Roscommon, Tyrone and Donegal.
Mayo didn’t exactly deliver a spine-chilling performance against Sligo in the provincial quarter-final – and they still seem to be searching for that extra forward or two to finish them off – but yet, they had nine points to spare in the quarter-final clash at McHale Park, and they haven’t turned into a bad team overnight.
That reasoning is reflected in the bookies ‘figure crunching’ on this encounter with Mayo 4/7 favourites and Galway at 7/4 (the draw comes in at 15/2), but many seasoned observers of the game from both counties tend to regard this as a 50/50 contest.
For better or worse, there doesn’t seem to be much change in Mayo from last year – they’re tight in defence, strong in midfield, and somewhat limited in attack. Overall, the big issue with them is whether last year’s final stumble has left its mark on them.
Galway made some solid if unspectacular progress in their Division 2 league campaign, rounding it off in style with a 0-18 to 0-16 success against Kildare in the final at Croke Park, but at times they struggled too, being beaten by Meath, and fortunate enough to get a point against a moderate Cork outfit in their opening game.
Kevin Walsh’s side scored pretty strongly in their eight league games, from their lowest tally of 0-14 against Cork and Kildare to 5-15 against Derry, an indication that there is a decent level of potency in attack.
Galway, though, will be planning to tighten up things at the back, having conceded 6-86 over the course of their seven Division 2 matches, before going on to beat Kildare in the final at Croke Park – next Sunday they will be planning to run a tighter ship.
For more, read this week’s Galway City Tribune.