There is no greater rivalry in Connacht football than that between the counties of Mayo and Galway. Evenly matched in terms of provincial titles, Mayo and Galway hold 45 titles each, according to the Connacht GAA record books. Those figures vary according to your source but never in question is the passion for the game exhibited by the two teams. Each year the GAA world excitedly focuses on the championship draw for a potential meeting.
This tribal rivalry is as old as the history of the GAA. At the beginning of the twentieth century their competitiveness went into overdrive when the Connacht football championship was founded. On reaching the 1924 Connacht final, Mayo and Galway cemented their positions as the indisputable footballing masters in the province. The teams knew each other intimately having met in the Connacht final nine times previously since 1900. The titans had jousted in the final as recently as 1923 when Mayo took the title on a three points to two scoreline. Both teams made it to the 1924 final the hard way after each was forced to play a semi-final replay. The extra fixtures allowed the finalists more time for additional training and preparation and the public more time to debate the possible outcome. The 1924 Connacht final, to be held in Balla on Sunday October 19, had all the makings of a GAA classic.
Special trains were scheduled to cater for the anticipated crowd and despite the unfavourable weather, close to 6,000 supporters turned out to watch the junior and senior finals. Political and physical wounds were still very real so soon after the Civil War and ready-made gatherings were still being exploited by groups. On the day of the 1924 final a public meeting of pro-Truce advocates, attended by an estimated 10,000 people took place in Balla. Just two years previously, Dáil Éireann had voted to accept the contentious Anglo-Irish Treaty. TDs representing constituencies in Mayo and Galway were almost evenly divided when it came to the Treaty vote. The factious meeting in Balla added to the tension already being felt around the grounds.
The junior match, also between Mayo and Galway, was played first. Mayo defeated Galway 1-4 to 0-1. The Galway seniors were favourites and were keen to erase the memory of their final loss to Mayo 12 months previous. Mayo won the toss but the breeze negated their advantage. Both teams trampled the sodden pitch in a fast paced first half. That Galway led at half time by just one Walsh point to nil did not reflect the intensity and talent on display.
A key member of the Mayo squad was Seán Lavan from Kiltimagh. Lavan was a university and Irish running champion who had competed in the 1924 Olympics in Paris. He put his speed to good use when late in the second half he made a brilliant run and scored Mayo’s only point to equalise. Lavan is credited with introducing the skilful solo run to Gaelic football. Impressive defences ensured the game would end with a Connacht final record low score of one point all. A two point final had been recorded in 1912 but has not been seen since 1924. The November replay in front of 4,000 people in Tuam was won by Mayo by 2-6 to 0-5.