Galway footballers can expect a Mayo backlash on Sunday

The Galway footballers will be fully aware Stephen Rochford and his Mayo squad will have all their guns locked and fully loaded to try to knock them out of the Connacht championship this Sunday in McHale Park (4pm ).

Having been beaten by Galway for the past two seasons in the provincial championship, Mayo and their supporters will not want to accept a third in succession.

Last June the championship clash ended on a scoreline of 0-15 to 1-11 for Kevin Walsh's men, with Sean Armstrong (0-6 ), Gary Sice (0-2 ) and Damien Comer (0-2 ) the top scorers for the victors.

Cillian O'Connor, as is the norm, was Mayo's top scorer with a tally of six points, and the hard working Kevin McLoughlin chipped in with 1-1.

Changes

A fair bit has changed in the intervening 12 months for Galway.

Gary Sice has retired, midfielder Fiontán Ó Curraoin is still out with a leg injury, and regular defender Liam Silke is unavailable this season as he heads to the US for the summer.

Galway also have injuries with speedster Eamonn Brannigan, who had a fine league campaign, expected to be out from the start, and there are rumours too that Eoghan Kerin and Declan Kyne are also doubtful. a

Mayo expect injured Lee Keegan will be unavailable and, according to sources, Cillian O'Connor will not start, but will come on as an impact substitute.

As is normal on a week like this, it is difficult to extract what is the truth and what the management teams want the opposition camps to believe.

Suffice to say that when Conor Lane (Cork ) throws in the ball in Castlebar on Sunday afternoon there will 15 Galway men and 15 players on the field fit and rearing to tear into each other, with a Connacht semi-final against Sligo at stake on the first Sunday in June.

Winners to win Connacht

This weekend is a huge game as the winners - unless there is a draw after extra time - will be in a good place to go on and win the Nestor Cup, whereas the losers will be thrown into the unpredictability of the qualifiers and will need to win four games to even reach the groups stages of the quarter finals.

As a result Galway will be looking for big displays from key forward and team captain Damien Comer, who was in stunning form during the national league.

Comer has become Galway's most important player up front, and Mayo will have a man-marker on him to try to nullify his influence.

If Comer is held by Mayo, it will mean other forwards such as Shane Walsh, Sean Armstrong, Ian Burke, Barry McHugh, a roving Johnny Heaney and perhaps Michael Daly will have to come more to the fore and take on more responsibility and leadership if the Mayo rearguard is to be penetrated.

The middle area will be a real war of attrition with Mayo's big three of Tom Parsons, Aidan and Seamus O' Shea expected to battle with Galway's trio of Paul Conroy, Ciarán Duggan and Peter Cooke.

Whichever side dominates the possession stakes in that area at key stages of the match will be very difficult to stop.

Mayo's target

Mayo will target Galway's kick-outs and they had a good bit of success in that area in the league encounter.

It is something Galway will have worked on extensively over the past few months, and hopefully they can reap the dividends of that work this Sunday.

With Mayo free-taker Cillian O'Connor expected to be out from the start, the free-taking duties are expected to fall to Conor Loftus who came on for Andy Moran in last year's All-Ireland final against Dublin.

Loftus impressed in their last league game - a narrow win over Donegal - nevertheless it will be interesting to see if he can produce the goods in a championship cauldron this weekend.

Galway, with their adapted and improved defensive shell, will probably not fear any one individual Mayo forward too much, but Mayo's collective work-rate makes them a tough bunch to stop.

Even without the injured Keegan, they have exciting attacking defenders with Eoin O'Donoghue, Paddy Durcan, Colm Boyle and a raiding Keith Higgins all well able to score if given time and space.

It promises to be a really tight and intriguing game and one that could go down to the wire.

The bookies have Mayo as slight favourites, understandable considering they narrowly lost the 2016 and 2017 All-Ireland finals.

They have considerable talent in their squad with six having won All-Stars last season, and they are a seriously hardened and experienced championship outfit who will fancy themselves to do the business in three days' time.

A Mayo win has been predicted in many quarters, and a draw has also been mentioned in many dispatches.

However, here in this parish we are plugging for a narrow Galway win, by a point or two, assuming Kerins and Kyne are passed fit to play, and based on the assumption the Galway forwards can do a little bit more damage with their possession than Mayo.

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