Galway manager Kevin Walsh said that the suggestion that this season’s Connacht championship is the most competitive in years is wide of the mark, because Mayo are still much better than their rivals.
Mayo are this year bidding to win the provincial title for the fifth year in a row — only Galway have managed to do that, back in 1960 — and Walsh said they remain the favourites.
The Tribesmen, who take on Leitrim in Carrick-on-Shannon on Sunday, finished off their league campaign with wins over Laois and Kildare after suffering three losses in a row, while Roscommon came good to secure a second successive promotion and the Division Two title.
Also, with new management teams in Sligo and Leitrim, and London trying to rediscover the magic of 2013 when they reached Croke Park for the first time, this year’s Connacht championship is being viewed as being the most open for a long time.
That view is enhanced by a perception that Mayo have declined after winning four Connacht titles in a row —failing again, though, to bridge the gap to their 1951 All-Ireland success — but Walsh does not subscribe to that notion.
“Obviously, there’s a huge gap with Mayo and the rest and that gap is still there and, until the other four teams improve, that’s the only time you say the Connacht championship is open.
“At this minute, it’s not open on the basis of results. Mayo seem to be the one, and probably Roscommon, in a way — [they] finished off really strong winning Division Two and winning it so comfortably in Croke Park — we feel that they might be second.
“The big thing for us is to close the gap. We have to close the gap and, if we can close it inch by inch, then let’s see where it takes us, but there’s nothing in our heads bar Leitrim at the moment.
“Even when we won All-Irelands back in the years, every time we went to Carrick, we really had to work for our victories up there. It’s a hard place to go. The Leitrim boys are well sussed. They have beaten probably Galway in minor and U21 in recent years, so these boys know exactly what they have to do up in Leitrim,” said Walsh, an All-Ireland winner in 1998 and 2001.
Galway got their campaign off to a winning start with a 2-18 to 0-8 win in New York, overcoming a stomach bug which hit the squad after arriving in the United States.
Walsh said it was a job well done, with the advantage of having the squad together being offset by the amount of time and effort which went into the trip.
“I suppose being together like that and people getting to know each other, it’s a help on that side. The other side of it probably is that, with the amount of preparation that went into it, we probably would’ve missed three or four sessions, probably could’ve been really hard sessions here as well, so it has the pluses, it has the minuses,” said the former All-Star.
Meanwhile, experienced Leitrim forward Fergal Clancy believes the county will have had to play a different type of game in the absence this season of ace marksman Emlyn Mulligan, but he believes the workload is now more evenly distributed.
Clancy said that Leitrim showed during the league that they can pick off scores from a variety of players and he is hopeful they can produce that in their Connacht championship opener against Galway on Sunday.
Mulligan has taken a year away from football to travel around the world and, while Clancy said he was a prolific scorer and would be missed, Leitrim had adapted to his absence.
“There were more than enough lads during the league who stepped up to the plate and chipped in with scores.
“In the years gone by, Emlyn was the focal point for our attack, but this year it is much more spread out and that makes it more hard for teams to defend against, as there is no one man that teams are focusing on and really we can do damage from any part of the field I think,” said the Glenfarne/Kiltyclogher clubman.
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