It’s been a long wait and it's nearly over. Since Mayo last tasted competitive action almost every other county has been involved in championship action, with Sligo the only side to have not got their summer underway by the time Mayo throw in against Galway on Sunday. This will be the first proper test of the Holmes and Connelly management ticket in the white heat of championship action and they couldn’t have asked for a more traditional joust than a meeting with Galway in their own back yard.
The good news for the duo and Mayo supporters is that they have a more or less clean bill of health in the squad with only
long term absentee Evan Regan not available for selection on Sunday, with the big news that Cillian O’Connor looks to have overcome his knee ligament problem thanks to a visit to a consultant in London and a modified rehab and medication regime. Donal Vaughan who was nursing a calf injury is expected to be fit and ready for action on Sunday too. The loss of Shane Walsh from their starting 15 will be a blow for the Glaswegians, but under Kevin Walsh this year their is an air of expectancy and hope coming from the Tribesmen camp. Having two games under their belt will be a big boost to Galway’s preparation, but they failed to set the world alight against Leitrim in
their quarter final game in Carrick-on-Shannon a few weeks back and they know a much improved performance will be needed if they are to derail Mayo on the first rung of a crack at five in a row provincial title.
The last times the sides met at the sea side venue, Mayo figuratively blew the Galway challenge well past the Arran Islands and into the Atlantic in a 4-16 to 0-11 win in 2013. Mayo made a statement that day in their first championship outing since the previous years All Ireland final defeat to Donegal. Nobody is expecting a similar destruction this time around. The most recent meeting of the sides in championship action, was in last years provincial showpiece
in Castlebar on that occasion, Mayo were once again victorious by 3-14 to 0-16, while the game was close on the scoreboard, the result was never really in doubt. O’Connor was the main man that day kicking eight points and having a hand in two of Mayo’s three goals, underlining the importance of the Ballintubber man to Mayo’s prospects for Sunday.
The starting line up for Sunday’s game was due to be announced on Thursday evening after this paper went to print, but Connelly said last week that 12 or so places was nailed down in their starting line but no major surprises are expected in their selection, with the big question being does O’Connor have the
full seventy minutes in him. If he doesn’t is better for Mayo to play him from the start and hope they’ve a lead built up before he’s called ashore or hold him in reserve and if it’s a tight game, his free taking ability could be key to seeing out a tight win. At the back the full back line has been a place there has been a lot of jiggling about during the league, with Kevin Keane putting in a solid league campaign and looks like he could have a spot nailed down there, with Keith Higgins a sure starter. But with both Tom Cunnifffe and Ger Cafferkey almost nailed on starters when fit, not all four men can start. In the half back line Mayo’s rock solid trinity of Colm Boyle, Lee Keegan and Donal
Vaughan have been almost ever presents in championship action, but both Patrick Durcan and Chris Barrett will be pushing very hard for a starting spot. In the middle of the park, Seamus O’Shea, Barry Moran and Tom Parsons are all vying for a starting spot and tough decisions will have to be made there, with each of the trio more than capable of being recognised starters. In attack is where things will get interesting, if O’Connor is fit and ready to go he’ll be a nailed on starter as will Kevin McLoughlin. Mark Ronaldson has taken his chance with open arms since he came back into the squad, while Aidan O’Shea will be somewhere in the front six. That still leaves the
likes of Jason Doherty, Danny Kirby, Alan Freeman, Alan Dillon, Andy Moran, Diarmuid O’Connor and Mikey Sweeney all looking for a place as will the likes of Neil Douglas and Conor Loftus. Some tough calls will have to be made by Holmes and Connelly on this one.
As for Galway, Walsh looks to have found a good midfield pairing with both Paul Conroy and Fiontan O’Curraion providing a mobile, yet physical duo. In attack, they’ll miss Walsh’s potential star turn, but Damien Comer, Michael Lundy and Gary Sice know what they are at, while Danny Cummins is a real livewire threat. If both sides hit the ground running this could be a special one on the sea- side.