It’s 112 years since Galway lost four Connacht SFC finals in a row but for all the apparent progress in recent seasons they will repeat that statistic if they go down to Roscommon at Pearse Stadium tomorrow.
Surprisingly in a province where, for the most part, only five counties have participated, Leitrim are the only other side to lose four finals on the spin, going down to Galway each summer from 1957 to 1960.
Padráic Joyce and his management won’t be paying any heed to what happened 112 years ago but what will be central to their preparations is that this is Galway’s seventh Connacht final in a row and so far only two of them have been won.
Both those victories came against Roscommon, winning by 0-16 to 2-6 at Hyde Park in 2018 and in a replay at Castlebar two seasons earlier by 3-16 to 0-14 after drawing in Pearse Stadium.
Three of the four final losses in this run have come at Pearse Stadium where, surprisingly, Galway have not won a Connacht final since beating Mayo in 2008, a day when Joyce skippered them to victory and struck 1-3 from play in a 2-12 to 1-14 win for a side managed by Liam Sammon. That season was also the last time Galway beat Roscommon on home soil in the championship, dishing out a 2-16 to 0-6 hammering at the Salthill venue in the quarter-finals.
Roscommon’s Connacht final victories in Salthill in 2019, when they won by 1-13 to 0-12, and two seasons earlier when they triumphed by 2-15 to 0-12, adds to the theory that home advantage will count for very little tomorrow.
Galway selector John Concannon told a great yarn last year how he and Joyce, along with another member of the current management John Divilly, used while away their time in class in St Jarlath’s by selecting various teams. They would pick the school team first, then the county minors and U21 and then the senior side, making changes every week depending on how performances went.
Such practice in class might be frowned upon in most schools, but in the famed Tuam nursery, the most prolific winners of the Hogan Cup, that sort of initiative was probably hailed.
Most of the Galway teams that Concannon and the other two selected were probably geared towards beating Mayo in the Connacht championship but Roscommon have stepped forward to enjoy a rivalry with Galway in recent years to match that.
They have met three times already since January. Galway won the first battle, a 1-18 to 1-16 win in the FBD League final player indoors at the Connacht Dome back in January. The second meeting was a bit of a mismatch in March. Galway, having already qualified for the Division Two final with a win in Derry, sent an understrength side to Hyde Park where Roscommon, needing the win for promotion, won by 1-20 to 1-15.
Galway were back to full strength in Croke Park a week later for the Division Two final but the outcome didn’t change with a late Diarmuid Murtagh goal sealing the title for the Rossies by 1-20 to 0-22.
Roscommon’s only outing since then was an impressive 0-23 to 0-11 Connacht semi-final win over Sligo on a wet evening in Markievicz Park when eleven players scored and they hit 0-18 from play to remain the only senior team in the country to remain unbeaten in league and championship this year.
That run will be put to a serious test by a Galway side who need key players such as Paul Conroy, Seán Kelly, Damien Comer and Shane Walsh to deliver big performances.
Conroy came on as a sub to win his first Connacht senior medal back in that 2008 success over Mayo and he has been inspirational this year for the Tribesmen. But Ultan Harney and Eddie Nolan have formed a very strong midfield pairing for Roscommon and Anthony Cunningham that getting an upperhand here would go a long way towards achieving success against his native county.
Joyce and his management will have noted how strong Roscommon were on the breaking ball around the middle sector and it will be interesting to see what measures they can take in this area.
And having spent years in the classrooms in St Jarlath’s selecting teams, Joyce, Divilly and Concannon are getting to do it for real now. This is a huge game for them, their need is probably greater than Roscommon. A first Connacht title since 2018 would send them into the All-Ireland series buzzing with confidence, a fourth provincial final loss would be deflating.