There's nothing quite like a Mayo versus Galway championship encounter to whet the appetite for championship football. Rivalries have come and gone in other provinces, the likes of Meath and Dublin in Leinster and Cork and Kerry in Munster are no longer as appealing as they once were because of the dominance and stranglehold that Dublin and Kerry possess within their provinces.
Ulster is a minefield with no two counties having an out and out rivalry because any one of five or six teams can win the Anglo Celt cup in any given year; but out west, Mayo and Galway have stood the test of time and the fixture is still one of the most eagerly anticipated games of football in the GAA calendar.
The game on Sunday takes place in the newly resurfaced Hastings insurance MacHale Park in Castlebar. It will be a welcome return to the venue for Mayo Supporters who had to travel to Sligo, Roscommon and Carrick on Shannon for their 'home' games throughout this year's league.
The league campaigns of both Galway and Mayo were relatively successful for both counties but ultimately didn't end well for either of them, as Galway succumbed to Roscommon in the division two final and Mayo were blitzed by Kerry in the division one final in Croke Park three weeks ago.
The immediate aim of both managers in the aftermath of those defeats would have been to put those performances to bed and forget about them and get their teams prepared for the battle on Sunday. Mayo's comprehensive defeat to Kerry was a lot more concerning than Galway's one point loss to Roscommon.
In the last two years Mayo have surpassed Galway in terms of Connacht Championship triumphs by defeating the Tribesmen in the 2020 and 2021 deciders and now lead Galway 48 to 46 in terms of Connacht titles - a measure of how close the teams are with their domination of Connacht football. This year however, unlike the last two covid hit championships that were one-chance saloon situations, there is the safety net of the back door for the losers although neither team will want to navigate that route. With the Tailteann Cup in operation, no losing team will get an easy passage so you're better off going through the front door.
The silence in the build-up to this game from the Mayo camp is deafening. The recent media boycott taken by players and managers throughout the country seems to suit when needed. Not a murmur from anyone, with most of us having absolutely no idea of the welfare of several players that carried injuries into the league final. Robbie Hennelly, Paddy Durcan, Oisin Mullin and Diarmuid O'Connor all missed the Croke Park showdown with Kerry while Jordan Flynn had to leave the fray after sustaining an ankle injury.
Despite Mayo blooding quite a few players during the league, you do not want to go into battle with Galway with any more than one or two of those five missing or it severely weakens your chances from the get-go.
The battle of Paul Conroy and Mattie Ruane at centre field will be box office. Both players were selected for the midfield berths when the team of the league was named and justifiably so. Conroy was sensational against Roscommon in that league final, scoring six points from play but Ruane is a different beast that he will have to contend with. I'm sure Ruane's mission will be simple, keep Conroy on the back foot and running towards his own goal. Ruane himself has a great engine and is very difficult to tag when in full flight and pops up to get some crucial scores for Mayo. This will be a fascinating duel.
Shane Walsh and a fit-again Damien Comer will both merit special attention as well. Ideally a fully fit Paddy Durcan would be tasked with a job on Walsh who literally goes all over the field in pursuit of possession to set up Galway attacks a long way out from goal. Depending on where Comer plays, it probably looks like a battle that Lee Keegan would relish. If you keep the aforementioned Galway trio quiet then you go a long way to winning the game. Easier said than done.
With all the chopping and changing Mayo did throughout the league and changing up to eight players from the starting line-up from week to week, picking a Mayo starting 15 (accounting for injuries also ) for Sunday, is not the simplest task.
Cillian O'Connor got valuable game time in Croke Park and you could sense his frustration at what was unfolding around him. He found the going tough but, what Mayo player didn't? He's another who will have got more valuable time on the paddock since then. I'd expect he will start from the bench on Sunday. James Horan has never lost a championship game against the Tribesmen. With their obvious experience of division one football and superior physicality, I expect that to continue. Mayo by four.