All roads lead to Croker on Sunday

GAA: Connacht Senior Football Championship Final

On the run: Eoghan McLaughlin gets away from Johnny Heaney in last year's Connacht final meeting between Mayo and Galway. Photo: Sportsfile.

On the run: Eoghan McLaughlin gets away from Johnny Heaney in last year's Connacht final meeting between Mayo and Galway. Photo: Sportsfile.

All roads lead east for Mayo and Galway on Sunday as the unusual surrounds of Croke Park host the latest instalment of this age-old classic between the two counties.

Mayo’s preparations for their Connacht semi-final against Leitrim was upended 48 hours before the throw-in, due to a Covid-19 related issue within the camp.

It didn’t derail them on the field as they easily dispatched the challenge of the Ridge County, but a much bigger challenge will be facing them come Sunday lunchtime in GAA headquarters.

For James Horan, keeping things as normal as possible over the past two weeks as they dealt with the issues, will have been his biggest concern ahead of Sunday’s test.

It’s just eight months since the sides met in the championship last time around, with Mayo edging the Connacht final by a solitary point in Pearse Stadium last November.

Cillian O’Connor hit four points for Mayo that afternoon, in a tough battle - but the Mayo talisman will be missing this time around after picking up a season-ending injury against Clare in the league semi-final.

Mayo supporters and management will be hoping his brother Diarmuid will be able to take some part in the action in Croke Park, he also limped out of that Clare game with a hamstring injury - but was fit enough to take a place on the bench against Leitrim.

While he didn’t take part in the game, he went through a training session after the game with the rest of the Mayo subs and extended panel members, who saw little or no game time in that win.

Two other big names missing from Mayo’s last outing were Lee Keegan and Kevin McLoughlin. If Mayo are going to see off the Tribesmen on Sunday, they will need this duo back in harness on the field going at full tilt.

Both sides passed each other in opposite elevators at the end of their league campaigns, with Mayo passing Galway on their way back up to division one, while Galway were making their way down to division two, after losing out to Monaghan in a play-off game they really should have won.

But Mayo can’t be thinking they will have a big advantage going into this game because of those factors. While James Horan’s side were putting minnows to the sword in division two, Galway were getting battle-hardened and learning serious lessons in division one.

Their hammering by Kerry on the opening day was followed up by a win over Roscommon and a good showing against Dublin, before they let their place in the top flight slip through their fingers against Monaghan - a side you must remember have booked their place in the Ulster decider in a week's time.

Galway have also had to overcome division one opposition from this year in their Connacht championship semi-final, seeing off Roscommon in Hyde Park in a deluge of rain, while Mayo have been crushing division four opposition on their path to Sunday’s final.

The wide open spaces of Croke Park should suit Mayo, along with their massive experience in the venue on big days over the past decade - but Padraig Joyce will be licking his lips at the chance of turning over Mayo in the big house and laying down a marker of intent as they try to reclaim their place as the big dogs of Connacht once more.

Make sure you check out the latest Advertiser GAA podcast, which will be out later today. Host Cian O'Connell and Colm Gannon will talk about the Connacht final all this weekend's GAA action. The podcast is available on all major podcast platforms.

 

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