Mayo go looking to tame the Tribesmen

GAA: Connacht Senior Football Championship

That way: Aidan O'Shea will be looking to get his hands on the Nestor Cup on Sunday. Photo: Sportsfile

That way: Aidan O'Shea will be looking to get his hands on the Nestor Cup on Sunday. Photo: Sportsfile

It is five years since Mayo competed for the Nestor Cup while playing on the day it was to be handed out - the 2015 Connacht Final win over Sligo was Mayo's fifth in succession as they made Connacht their play-thing for half a decade.

Since then, they have been competing at the latter end of the championship and have failed to make it back to the showpiece occasion in any of the years since - up to now.

Things have changed a lot since Mayo's last Final appearance - with James Horan back in charge, having stepped away the first time at the end of the 2014 campaign. This year there is no back door, there are no crowds baying for opposition blood and Mayo are a team that is changing its DNA, with a whole crop of new players coming through.

But, if you look at the the team that put six goals past Sligo in that 2015 final, there is still a serious spine of that side still operating at the top level for the county, up to an including last weekend's Connacht semi-final win over Roscommon.

David Clarke, Lee Keegan, Diarmuid O'Connor, Aidan O'Shea, Cillian O'Connor and Kevin McLoughlin all started in both games, while Paddy Durcan, who was only emerging as the player we know now, came off the bench in that final five years ago, as did Chris Barrett, and both men started last Sunday.

While this current Mayo team may be changing into something different to what it has been for most of the past decade, it is still very much packing an experienced core group that has been there and done it before.

Of course, a senior provincial final is going to be a whole new experience for a number of new faces - the likes of Oisin Mullin, Eoghan McLaughlin, Conor Loftus, Mathew Ruane, Ryan O'Donoghue, Tommy Conroy - who all started against Roscommon, haven't had the experience of a Connacht senior final under their belts yet. Even Stephen Coen, who has captained Mayo to minor and u21 All Ireland success and UCD to Sigreson wins, hasn't got game time in a senior provincial final, despite being around for a long time.

Mayo will head to Salthill as most peoples favourites for the game, following back-to-back wins over Leitrim and Roscommon in the championship, while Padraic Joyce's side have been kicking their heels since their last league outing against Dublin three weeks ago. The Tribesmen also have the sore point of the beating that Mayo gave to them in Tuam on the first day back, when the league resumed in mid October.

They also will be without Damien Comer by all indications, after he limped out of the aforementioned league meeting between the sides with barely a bead of sweat broken for the day, while their maverick attacker and team captain, Shane Walsh, is only working his way back from injury.

But beware - while Galway haven't lit things up since the return to action after the covid break - they were the team who looked like real livewires and championship contenders before everything was brought to a sudden stop. Joyce will have had two weeks now to study Mayo in the championship, along with his own experiences from the earlier meeting, and he is not going to let Mayo boss the game on their terms like that again.

With the likes of Walsh, Ian Burke, Jason Leonard and Robert Finnerty in attack, they pose a threat that could cause the Mayo defence all kinds of problems - while Tom Flynn and Paul Conroy will need to have serious attention paid to them, if Mayo are going to curb the homeside's threat.

The Mayo attack had the freedom of Tuam when the sides met a few weeks ago, the Galway defence will be well keyed-up for what is coming their way this time around and you can't see them letting things get away from them like they did again on Sunday.

Since returning to action, Mayo have more or less hit their stride, a poor first half against Tyrone being the one smudge on their copybook; but they reacted well in the second half of that game and could have reeled in the Ulster men. After that, it was a case of getting through Leitrim in very poor conditions and then seeing off a fancied Roscommon side with an improved performance on the week before. Mayo will be looking to keep up that upward trend come Sunday as they go chasing the Nestor Cup.

 

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