Galway versus Mayo merits its own special place in the longlist of great sporting rivalries. The crankiest of neighbours often under the same roof. A soft border spanned regularly. For work, for university, for sport.
United and divided. So many with a foot in both camps. Some have even represented both. Within the space of a few years one man shared a dressing room with the likes of Keith Higgins and Michael Meehan. Any guesses?
The answer is of course Corofin All-Ireland winner Ciarán McGrath, who played for Galway at Minor, U-21 & Senior in football. While working in Claremorris as a Garda, McGrath hurled for Sylane and Mayo.
What of the blend in the Finnerty household? On Sunday they will set for the Allianz Football League Division 1 final in Croke Park. Robert representing Galway, his father and former Mayo All-Ireland finalist, Anthony "Larry" Finnerty cheering him on from the stand.
“He wouldn't have the Galway jersey on him, but he might go as far as having a maroon shirt on,” says Robert with a smile. Ties bind the counties all over. It has always been so.
His club, 2022 county finalists Salthill-Knocknacarra, are currently managed by John O’Mahony. The connection runs deep.
“I would have been very aware of it because my old lad was dragging me along to Mayo games my whole life, trying to put a Mayo jersey on me when I was younger. I’d have been very aware of it. Even just going to games and his meeting people that he knows, lads that he played with, I would always have known that he played with Mayo.
“There’s a big Mayo connection with Maurice Sheridan as well, another Salthill man who would have played for Mayo with Dad.”
Salthill have five players in Padraic Joyce’s panel. Finnerty, Tomo Culhane, John Maher, Daniel O’Flaherty and Cathal Sweeney. Another two, Mikey Culhane and Donal Hunt, are currently part of the development squad.
The likes of O’Flaherty have recently come in and bolstered Galway’s defensive options. He made his debut in the league opener against Mayo in Castlebar. The same day Finnerty departed early due to an ankle injury suffered in a tackle after his score.
“That’s my second one, both were actually against Mayo. I did my ankle in the (2021) Connacht final against Mayo, and then again in the first round of the league against Mayo. Both similar enough incidents. There wasn’t any malice in them now or anything like that, they were going for the ball or whatever, but it was disappointing. They were short days for me.”
Despite a diagnosis of Grade 3 ligaments, Finnerty returned to action three weeks later against Tyrone. A quick turnaround but games are always preferred to training. He uses the same logic when asked about Mayo’s one week break between the league final and opening round of the Connacht championship against Roscommon.
“It is easy for me to say because I’m not playing in the first round of the championship the following week, but I know myself personally, I’d prefer to be playing a league final than training this weekend. I think it’s probably good preparation for them. I suppose the league games are being played at a championship intensity, and they probably want to be from Mayo’s perspective as well, since they’re out next week in the championship.
“To be honest, I think it’s probably going to be better than a training session for them, and it will probably stand to them the following week against Roscommon.”
As for the weakening of the provincial championship within the new structure?
“Every game matters to us and every medal as well. At the end of the year, if we look back on it without a Connacht medal, we'll be disappointed. A Connacht medal is a huge achievement and our dressing room is not filled with them. We definitely wouldn't turn our heads to one.”
Going Gung-ho, starting Sunday.
**Robert Finnerty was speaking at the launch of Optimum Nutrition’s new three-year partnership as Official Performance Nutrition Partner of the Gaelic Players Association.