Do or die for the first time in two decades against the old enemy

GAA: All Ireland Senior Football Championship

Planning for Galway: James Horan will have been plotting and planning for Galway since the draw was made. Photo: Sportsfile

Planning for Galway: James Horan will have been plotting and planning for Galway since the draw was made. Photo: Sportsfile

For the first time in two decades Mayo and Galway will square off knowing whoever is standing tallest at the final bell will end the other's Summer.

Since the introduction of the qualifiers in 2001 - the two sides have only met in Connacht, avoiding each other in the winner-takes-all stages of the competition. The last time that the sides met when it was all on the line, was in 1999, in Tuam Stadium; Galway were defending All Ireland champions and Mayo, wounded after the Tribesmen picked up that title in 1998, having themselves contested the two All Ireland finals previously and come up short.

Tomorrow's meeting has a nice little symmetry about it - with both men who will be on the sideline for their respective sides having played major parts on the field 20 years ago. James Horan was the main man for Mayo that day, scoring five points from play and on his way to picking up his second All Star. Kevin Walsh, the current Galway manager, was one of their stars of the time and was on the losing side - which was of course managed by Mayo man John O'Mahony, with John Maughan, who was chaired on supporters' shoulders off the field - in charge of Mayo.

Two decades have passed and Galway have gone on to win another All Ireland title while Mayo are still looking for their first in almost seventy years. The team on top in the rivalry has flipped many times in the years since, with the Tribesmen the current team with the upper hand - defeating Mayo in their last three championship clashes, putting to an end the five wins in a row Mayo had put together when the sides met between 2009 and 2015.

Both were dumped out of the provincial championship by Roscommon, with Mayo exiting at the semi-final stage and Galway at the provincial final, after a second half collapse that saw their own native son, Anthony Cunningham, guide his adopted county to victory and into the Super 8's.

Galway have frustrated Mayo during a number of the last few meetings, it is something that Mayo will have to avoid tomorrow evening. Kevin Walsh's side have got plenty of criticism for the way he approaches games in a defensive style, while seemingly not using his talented attacking options to their fullest. But it has worked against Mayo in recent years. James Horan and his brains trust - will not have had much time to plot and plan since the draw was made on Monday, but facing a familiar enough opponent will mean they know exactly what to expect.

There was criticism of Horan for being too late to make changes against Roscommon, but last Saturday he acted swiftly when he judged remedial action was needed - whipping off Andy Moran with barely half an hour gone, moving Lee Keegan in to pick up Rian O'Neill after the Armagh full forward had started the game brightly, and bringing Donal Vaughan into the action not long after the second half started. These were decisive and committed moves.

He has also shown that he is not afraid to shake up his team from game to game, with a number of changes last weekend made from the team that beat Down seven days previously. Last Saturday he made four changes to the team that had been announced the day previously, which has not been the norm for him - but it showed a willingness to change and adapt.

The closing stages of Mayo games have been high octane and full of entertainment, but being five points up with not that long left on the clock and seeing that lead whittle down, is not something that Horan will have enjoyed and it is something that no doubt he will have been speaking about this week with his side.


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