Mayo meet Galway for the first time since the former’s shock defeat to the Tribesmen at this stage of the Connacht football championship last year. Galway's win put stop to Mayo's potential and unprecedented run of six provincial titles in a row. That defeat, Galway’s promotion to division one of the Allianz League, and the decision of some of Mayo’s senior players to give it one more crack, all point to a hotly contested semifinal this Sunday in Pearse Stadium. But sure what else would you expect from one of the oldest rivalries in GAA? It is a rivalry that kicked off in dramatic fashion in Connacht’s first contested championship in 1901. That year’s championship was actually not played in 1901, but was held throughout October and November of 1902. Galway had made their way to the Connacht final with a tight win over Roscommon. Mayo had received a bye into the final which was fortunate as Mayo GAA was in a period of reorganisation, its county committee had only been formed in April 1902.
Special trains ran at half fare from Sligo and Tuam to gather up supporters along the routes to the grounds in Claremorris. The GAA Central Council dispatched one of the country's most experienced referees from Dublin to oversee the game so that fairness could not be questioned. The game was set to be a well-attended and well-contested affair. As was the practice at the time, each county was represented by its top club which was then supplemented with players from other clubs. Charlestown supplied the majority of the green and red line-up, with Ballina, Castlebar, and Claremorris filling the gaps. Galway was made up mainly of Dunmore players and was captained by the man who would later lend his name to the Connacht senior football championship cup, JJ Nestor. The first half was marred by bad play by the Galway forwards who made little use of the November wind at their backs. Of their three points at half time, only one was scored from play. Galway's hard work was nullified near the break when Mayo scored a goal to send the teams to the 10 minute intermission on level terms. In the second half possession was evenly shared but Mayo made most of their time on the ball and pulled away from their southern neighbour to finish out the game victorious on a scoreline of 2-4 to three points. As Mayo supporters celebrated their first Connacht title, their heroes were cordially presented with medals and a gold cup by Galway MP, William Duffy.
The fraternal plaudits did not last long however. On behalf of his team, JJ Nestor lodged an objection to Mayo being declared winners on the grounds that the Mayo team was composed of ex-militia men, and that some of them were not even from the county. Official objections to GAA results were not uncommon throughout the country. The case was heard by the Connacht Provincial Council one month after the game. The chairperson of the council was Joseph McBride of Westport, who had been elected to the position in Ryan's Hotel, Claremorris, the evening of Mayo's Connacht final win. Ryan's Hotel was also the venue for the council's meeting where Nestor's objection was discussed. It appears that no Galway council member attended. The previous chairperson, a Tuam man, had written to the council regretting his inability to attend. Nestor's objection was considered but the awarding of the 1901 Connacht championship to Mayo was confirmed. Since that first contested Connacht championship, both counties have dominated the provincial football scene. Because of that century and more of success, we in Mayo have come to expect a lot from our players. No pressure so, but if you are reading this Cillian, it might be no harm to have an objection drafted and stored in the sock just in case.