There are many provincial rivalries. In Leinster in the 80s and 90s, it was Dublin and Meath; in Munster its Cork and Kerry practically every year and no matter how any teams' fortunes are going there is nothing like a Mayo and Galway clash in the Connaught Championship to whet the appetite.
Although Galway haven't been a force of late there is always something special when Mayo have to play them in the championship. With respect to London, the championship proper starts for Mayo in McHale Park tomorrow evening.
No matter who you speak to, be they experts or ordinary people off the street, you'll get a completely different prospective or analysis on what's likely to occur. That's the beauty of football. Some will tell you Galway have gone backwards of late and are wasting their time turning up. Others feel their staying quiet on purpose, lying in wait to ambush Mayo on their own patch to prevent them going for the unprecedented 6 Moclair cups in a row.
Galway manager Kevin Walsh has even jumped on the 'Mayo For Sam' bandwagon. In a recent enough interview with GAA.ie he declared that Mayo were the only team in Ireland capable of beating the Dubs. In other words never mind Galway, forget about us and we will slide under the radar and hopefully catch Mayo on the hop. I don't ever remember hearing as little noise from the Galway camp in the lead-up to such a big game. It really is an ideal build-up for them as the majority of “experts” feel it will be a walk in the park for Stephen Rochford's team.
Walsh, however, declared recently that up to 50 players refused an invitation to try out for his panel since he took charge. That is an astonishing statistic for such a football proud county. It is obviously not fashionable to be a Galway inter county footballer at the moment. I can only imagine what the likes of Padraig Joyce and Ja Fallon think of that. If you're dealing with lack of interest of that magnitude, it can't be good for the wellbeing of the team. Any club player in Mayo, Dublin, Kerry or Tyrone would bite your hand off to get a chance to wear their county jersey.
The only time I saw Galway in the flesh in 2016 was in the FBD league final in Tuam against Roscommon which they won. However, Roscommon rested a host of their top players for that game as the National League was starting the following week. We are still trying to become familiar with a lot of the Galway players and until they take a scalp of note some will remain anonymous. We all know about Paul Conroy and Thomas Flynn who are likely to be their midfield pairing with the recent departure of Fiontain O Corrain from the panel. It leaves them short of big men in that area. They have a top full/corner forward in Damien Comer who will cause trouble for the best defenders in the country if given the supply. He gave the Mayo full back line plenty of it in Salthill last year. Mayo only won that game by 4 points, and need we be reminded that it took a very fortuitous goal in the second half when Galway keeper Manus Breatnach got a rush of blood to the head and rifled the ball off his fullback Finian Hanley which resulted in Mayo's goal.
Another player to watch is wing back Johnny Heaney who was very impressive in that FBD final. He attacks at will and will need a very disciplined marker if selected. Mayo have still a few slight injury worries with Chris Barrett definitely ruled out. Stephen Rochford will know these Galway players well from his time at Corofin and may go with horses for courses. Whatever team starts, injury aside this will give us a good idea of Rochford's thinking for down the line, but for him it's all about the now, it is all about getting a result on Saturday.
I expect Mayo to win of course. It is eight years since Galway defeated Mayo in a game of note, I expect that to become at least nine years. Mayo are priced at 2/9 in the bookmakers but, like Roscommon last week against Sligo, I expect Mayo to cover the -5 handicap set. Cillian O Connor is always a good bet for first goal scorer and will want to put in a big show after his early black card in Ruislip. He is available at 5/1. Mayo's experience will be too hot for Galway to handle.
If ever there was an example of a game of two halves then we need to look no further than the Roscommon and Sligo game. Sligo were eight points up at half time and to lose by nine points is some turn around; a 17 point swing in 35 minutes. Sligo completely capitulated in the second half as the Rossies turned on the style scoring a whopping 4-10 and it could have been worse. The black card issued to Adrian Marren didn't help Sligo but it still wouldn't have altered the result.