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Inside Track

Mayo’s chance to finally banish demons of the past

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Inside Track with John McIntyre

SIX times Mayo footballers have been beaten in All-Ireland finals since 1989 and on each occasion, they have fallen short – and badly short in their three September showdowns against Kerry. During that period, the Connacht men have run the gauntlet of being labelled as big day failures and lacking the necessary bottle as a county’s six decade yearning for Sam Maguire reaches desperate levels.

Last year, they suffered an honourable four-point loss to Donegal despite being raided for two morale-sickening early goals, including Michael Murphy’s rocket. Mayo didn’t die or collapse and battled bravely to the finish even if there was a certain inevitability about the outcome after the opening ten minutes. Manager James Horan has brought a harder edge to the Connacht champions and they have certainly trained on in 2013.

It’s doubtful if ever a team has proven as superior to all their rivals in the provincial championship as Mayo did out west this summer. They just didn’t beat Galway, Roscommon and surprise finalists London in turn, they beat them all out the gate before also powering over Donegal in the All-Ireland quarter-final. Still, the jury was out on how good the team was as all Mayo’s opponents so far had hardly raised a gallop and only offered token resistance.

We were always going to find out more about Mayo’s capabilities against Tyrone in the subsequent semi-final and for a while they reverted to type. Under-performing, shooting bad wides and in trouble until defenders Chris Barrett and Lee Keegan stormed forward to pick off critical points approaching half-time. By the end of the game, there was only one team in it as a physically powerful and mobile Mayo almost cantered home.

They look a new Mayo but until they actually win the All-Ireland title, long-held suspicions about them will not evaporate. And they face a massive challenge on Sunday in coping with an in-form Dublin outfit who again steamrolled their way through Leinster before accounting for Cork and Kerry – the match of the year – on their way to the final. The Dubs came close to falling in that epic battle with the Kingdom but, ultimately, their younger legs, stronger bench and a Roy of the Rovers style finish got them over the line.

It would be a great way for Mayo to end their title famine and they do have every chance despite Dublin’s current verve and strength indepth. For a start , the O’Shea brothers, Aidan and Seamus, are a much more formidable midfield pairing that what Jim Gavin’s men had to contend with against Kerry and it should also be to the Connacht champions’ advantage that they will hardly engage Dublin in an end-to-end shootout like Kerry did. Mayo are tactically astute and are hardly going to allow opposition half-backs Jack McCaffrey and James McCarthy the scope to attack at will.

Mayo will also have to target Stephen Cluxton’s kick-outs which are so often a launching pad for Dublin’s attacks, while they can’t afford the level of poor finishing that was so evident in the opening half against Tyrone. It is heartening, however, the manner in which they got themselves out of a big hole in that match and there is undoubtedly a seasoned maturity about them now. There is little evidence either that Mayo will under-perform in the final. They have come through the school of hard knocks and are all the better for it.

There is such an intense longing for an All-Ireland title among their long suffering supporters that a Mayo triumph on Sunday could herald unequalled-style celebrations. It would be a mighty final to win with a formidable Dublin team in the other corner and though their well-chronicled list of final failures is lurking in the background, it’s about time Mayo stepped up to the plate on the biggest day of them all. In reality, this team has no excuses as they are good enough to do it.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Connacht Tribune

Superb St Thomas’ take dominance of Galway club hurling to new level

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St Thomas’ Victor Manso is about to pounce on this loose ball against Dylan Shaughnessy of Loughrea during Sunday's Galway Senior Hurling Final at Pearse Stadium. Photo: Joe O'Shaughnessy.

Inside Track with John McIntyre

Barely five minutes after Sunday’s thrilling Galway hurling final replay at Pearse Stadium, the clouds burst open – raining more misery on a Loughrea team which had covered themselves in glory for the second week running only to discover that their best wasn’t quite good enough.

Of course, Loughrea could have won both the drawn final and replay, and there were times where St Thomas’ were hanging on for dear life, but they were unable to close the deal. They weren’t let, for starters, as the champions enhanced their reputation for getting out of tight corners in Galway.

In the days between the two matches, you’re wondering what either finalist can do differently to give them an edge; what switches might be made; or what new tactical approach might they bring to the battlefield. Mark Caulfield would hardly have featured in any of that conjecture.

He’s a big unit but inexperienced at this level. He was promoted to centre back in the continued absence of Shane Cooney and was doing enough to stay on the team. Caulfield, however, only lasted until half-time last Sunday week and you sensed he was about to make way for the fit-again county defender.

Cooney, however, jarred a hamstring in training which ended that plan. Instead, St Thomas’ turned to former Galway captain David Burke to take over at centre back. If those on the outside had got wind of that, you’d be left thinking that there would be no place for Caulfield at all.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Loughrea’s standing is enhanced as champions pushed to the wire

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St Thomas' Victor Manso and Darragh Burke tussling for possession with Johnny Coen and Brian Keary of Loughrea during Sunday's County Hurling Final at Pearse Stadium. Photo: Joe O'Shaughnessy.

Inside Track with John McIntyre

EVEN the might Kilkenny hurlers couldn’t manage it in 2010 which underlines how difficult the challenge was for St Thomas’ to complete their own ‘Drive for Five’ at Pearse Stadium last Sunday. Breaking new ground is never easy for the best of teams, but at least the Galway champions will have a second crack at it.

They entered the 2022 county final as heavy favourites to capture a fifth consecutive Galway title despite five of their team – it would have been six only for James Regan’s injury – having started in the club’s historic triumph of ten years ago. It was their first appearance in a final and it heralded a period of unexpected domination which has resulted in six championships in a decade.

Having won every final they have featured in up to now, St Thomas’ have it down to a fine art in taking care of business on the big days that matter. But they were shaken to the core in Salthill and, at times in a great game, you felt their time at the top was about to come to an end. Four points down with eight minutes of normal time remaining. St Thomas’ had never previously faced such a crisis in a county final.

Typically, their response spoke volumes for the team’s resilience and talent. A late goal and two points from the outstanding Éanna Burke looked to have turned the tide in their favour, and they were seconds away from celebrating a milestone achievement – only done twice before by Castlegar and Turloughmore in Galway.

It would have represented the crowning glory for the glorious club careers of the Burke brothers, David, Cathal, Darragh and Éanna – a utilised sub in 2012 – Conor Cooney and Bernard Burke, but fairytales don’t happen as often in sport as some people would like to think. St Thomas’ have to do it all over again but, on the balance play last Sunday, they should be grateful for that opportunity.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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The Connacht Tribune Live app is the home of everything that is happening in Galway City and county. It’s completely FREE and features all the latest news, sport and information on what’s on in your area. Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

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Connacht Tribune

Loughrea’s return to big stage can bring freshness to county final day

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Loughrea manager, Tommy Kelly, and team captain Ian Hanrahan, Liam Brady, Branch Manager, Brooks Timber and Building supplies (sponsors), and St Thomas’ captain Conor Cooney and manager, Kenneth Burke, attending the county senior hurling media event. Photo: Joe O'Shaughnessy.

Inside Track with John McIntyre

THERE was a time when 10,000-plus crowds regularly descended on Galway senior hurling finals, but those days are long gone. The temptation to largely blame that scenario on the near-annual lateness in completing the campaign is obvious, and though it is a factor, there are other more pertinent issues.

The live streaming of matches – a legacy of the Covid-19 pandemic – has hit attendances at GAA club championships, and Galway is no different, but an extra complication locally has been the jaundiced view of many hurling followers, notably in the east of the county, towards travelling to Pearse Stadium for big matches.

We have lost count of the number of hurling followers who can’t stomach the thought of crawling through city centre traffic to get to Salthill. Arriving on Galway’s eastern fringes is the easy part, but then getting across to Pearse Stadium can often prove a nightmare. Parking is another issue. And, of course, there is also the view that the weather is more often than not wet and windy at the county’s premier ground.

All of this is contributing to diminishing crowds at Pearse Stadium, especially for hurling matches. A modest crowd of over 4,000 turned up for the semi-finals last Sunday week and though it was a bleak day, the lack of atmosphere and excitement was plain to see. The ironic part is that the venue is equipped with substantial seating and no shortage of catering and toilet facilities.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App

Download the Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App to access to Galway’s best-selling newspaper.

Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

Or purchase the Digital Edition for PC, Mac or Laptop from Pagesuite  HERE.

Get the Connacht Tribune Live app
The Connacht Tribune Live app is the home of everything that is happening in Galway City and county. It’s completely FREE and features all the latest news, sport and information on what’s on in your area. Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

 

 

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