National League returns with much at stake for Galway and Mayo

 Johnny Heaney captains Galway against Mayo on Sunday,

Johnny Heaney captains Galway against Mayo on Sunday,

The penultimate round of the national league will be played on Sunday as Galway take on fierce rivals Mayo in Tuam Stadium behind closed doors.

The game will throw in at 2pm and will be shown live on TG4, the man in the middle will be Laois’ Maurice Deegan.

There is plenty at stake for both teams. Win, and Galway will have one hand on the second of the three cups that Padraic Joyce aimed for at the beginning of the year. Galway will also have the dangling carrot of a win that will send Mayo down to division two, which will no doubt be in the minds of the players and management, many of whom will be well aware of how far back a stint in division two can set a team. As a result this fixture has all the hallmarks of a dog fight which will go down to the wire.

Despite the seven month lay-off since the last league game was played, Galway has not managed to come into this encounter quietly. The biggest talking point in the build up as been the potential involvement of Donegal’s former All-Ireland conquering manager Jim McGuinness being added to the backroom staff of Galway.

Footage emerged last weekend during a training session in Tuam Stadium of McGuinness leading a drill. Joyce and McGuinness were teammates in Tralee IT and won a Sigerson together, but Joyce was coy when asked about the extent of McGuinnes involvement.

“It’s like when you sample a new brand of something, you’ll taste it and see what it’s like, and if you don’t like it, you might go somewhere else and get something different, but we’ll see how it goes down. We loved it, he was very good, yeah.”

When asked about his reasoning for bringing in McGuinness, he said: “We had a man in Tuam yesterday, yeah, to do a bit of training but, again, Jim is a personal friend of mine, has been for years. I went to college with the man, would have huge respect for him. His CV speaks for itself. He’s a qualified professional performance coach and I felt at the time that we needed the mental aspect of the game to kind of get an extra bonus into the players because there’s a lot more to training a team than just out on the pitch and just kicking points or blocking and defending. There’s other aspects to it, so Jim brought a different element yesterday and the lads enjoyed the session as I did."

Whatever McGuinness' involvement might become, it surely cannot be any harm to have the man that last led a team to beat the Dub’s in championship with a group hoping to do the same.

There are a number of injury concerns heading into this weekend’s game. Shane Walsh, who had been in player of the year form before the games stopped, is a major doubt for the Mayo game. On Walsh’s injury Joyce remarked: “Shane has a couple of injuries that he is dealing with at the moment, an issue with a knee and one of his ankles.

"He has a great year with the club, got them to the intermediate final and, Shane being Shane, he is going to draw attention on match days, which he did, and he got a few knocks so he hasn’t trained with us in the last two weeks. He is in an orthopaedic boot so he is doubtful for Sunday and we will need to see how it goes with him.”

In the middle of the park, Ronan Steede will be absent as he has been injured since Corofin bowed out at the semi-finals of the club championship. “He picked up an ankle injury against Mountbellew," said Joyce, "so we have only seen him once since we came back training. He is a loss to us as a midfielder. We are struggling around that area of the pitch. He was going well early in the year. He’s definitely out for Sunday, but hopefully will be back before too long.”

Wing-back Dylan Wall, due to an ankle injury, is another absentee. In addition to these injuries, Galway will be without any players from the newly-crowned champions Moycullen due to Covid concerns. This will rule out Seán Kelly and Gareth Bradshaw in what is another blow to Padraic Joyce and co.

There have also been three additions to the Galway panel, Salthill-Knocknacarra’s John Maher, Mountbellew-Moylough’s James Foley, and Moycullen's Paul Kelly.

The game will throw in at 2pm and will be shown live on TG4. The man in the middle will be Laois’ Maurice Deegan.

Galway v Mayo: Connor Gleeson, Conor Campbell, Seán Andy O'Ceallaigh, Johnny Heaney (cpt ), Liam Silke, Johnny Duane, Cillian McDaid, John Maher, Céin D'Arcy, Éamonn Brannigan, Michael Daly, Jason Leonard, Robert Finnerty, Ian Burke, Paul Conroy.

 

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