By Peter O’ Dwyer
That it’s been five years since the two giants of Connacht contested a provincial final tells you all you need to know about the health of Galway football in recent years; Mayo have kept their side of the bargain in four of the last five after all.
But on Sunday, for the first time since 2009 when Mayo eked out a one point lead, the two go head to head again. Mayo are gunning for a fourth consecutive Connacht title to emulate the Roscommon side of 1977-1980 who last accomplished such a feat.
Galway, meanwhile, are looking to atone for the embarrassment that was their 4-16 to 0-11 quarter-final loss to Mayo a year ago. From that nadir it’s hard to imagine they’ll have enough to trouble the Mayo men, but they have certainly dusted themselves down and set about rebuilding the side since that dreadful day.
Alan Mulholland has brought plenty of fresh faces into the fold to reinvigorate his charges, while the likes of Seán Armstrong and Michael Meehan have also stepped up to the plate.
From the successful U-21 teams of 2011 and 2013, a raft of new stars has begun to emerge. Centre-forward Shane Walsh is one such star in the making. The powerful centre-forward has enjoyed his championship so far this season, turning in an impressive display in the semi-final win over Sligo.
The Kilkerrin-Clonberne star will be central to Galway’s attacks again today and will need to be on his game if Galway are to have a chance.
Elsewhere, the addition of Barry Moran to the Mayo side with Aidan O’ Shea switching the centre-half forward seems like a nod to the ever-improving Galway central duo of Tom Flynn and Fiontán Ó Curraoin.
The dismantling of the O’ Shea axis in the middle of the park is an interesting move from James Horan who also restores Andy Moran and Alan Dillon to the side with Diarmuid O’ Connor and Alan Freeman missing out.
Those changes alone highlight the task that lies in wait for Galway, if the Mayo manager can afford to leave those two guys and the bench and have the likes of Moran and Dillon to assume their responsibilities in the full-forward line where they will be joined by Cillian O’ Connor.
Despite Galway’s improvement since last year’s humiliating defeat, it’s hard to see the Tribesmen having enough to derail Mayo’s tilt at the four-in-a-row.
To be competitive while Mayo march on towards Croke Park to claim the crown they really want is not what Galway football was built on, but for another while it might have to be their lot.