No olive branch in sight as western rivals go into battle again

On Damien Comer’s last visit to MacHale Park, referee Paddy Neilan sent him for an early shower.

Galway forward Damien Comer

It was the second Friday of January, neither Galway nor Mayo wholly enamoured to find themselves wrestling in the mud in Castlebar. Their FBD meeting was supposed to have been played the Sunday previous, but a frozen pitch meant the game was postponed three minutes after it was scheduled to throw-in.

The refixture probably should have bit the bullet, as well, such was the downfall of rain and patches of surface water on the turf. The powers-that-be, though, had a competition to finish and so another postponement simply wouldn’t do.

In any event, the Tribesmen shaded the verdict by 1-10 to 1-9 despite finishing with just 12 men.

Comer was first to walk, receiving a straight red card in the second-half for throwing back the elbow when tackled by Adam Gallagher. Seán Mulkerrin and Seán Andy Ó Ceallaigh would follow him to the line before the game was up.

Their league encounter a month later in Pearse Stadium was similarly feisty, with three players also walking that particular afternoon - Mayo’s Cillian and Diarmuid O’Connor, as well as Galway’s Paul Conroy.

Throw in Keith Higgins’ red this time last year and relations between the counties have been frostier than usual.

Comer, at the recent Connacht championship launch, accepted there is bad blood between the pair heading into tomorrow’s provincial quarter-final.

There probably is, but during the league game in February, there were lads fighting for positions and that would lead to a few heated affairs,” the 24-year old remarked.

“Nobody was prepared to give an inch in that they wanted that jersey with the next league game in mind. You have to lay down a marker and make sure your manager sees something that he likes in you.

“I don’t think there was anything malicious in what went on. It wasn’t anything like the Meath-Mayo game you see old clips of from back in the day, there wasn’t any of that. It was just handbags.

“Obviously, May 13 was going to be on everyone’s mind but it was more so to do with lads fighting for spots.” The environment tomorrow will be similarly ferocious and so it’ll be one hell of a baptism for Galway’s three championship debutants - full-back Ó Ceallaigh, midfielder Ciarán Duggan and Barry McHugh.

Comer is confident the championship newcomers won’t be pushed around.

“It’s definitely a tough game for them but they’ve shown through the league that nothing really fazes them.

“They’re young lads, they’ve had that experience of the championship.

“I know there’s a difference between U21 and senior, but they got to an All-Ireland U21 final last year.

“The league would have stood to them, albeit the intensity is going to be entirely different against Mayo. They took to the league as if they were seasoned campaigners who had been there the last few years.

“Seán Andy [Ó Ceallaigh] has made the full-back position his own. It’s something we’ve needed with the retirement of Finian Hanley. It’s something we’ve had to look for and in fairness to him, he’s slid in there and really made that full-back line solid. It has paid dividends in that we only conceded one goal in the league.”

The Annaghdown forward played in the four most recent championship games between the Connacht heavyweights. Mayo won in 2014 and ‘15, but the tide has since turned and should the visitors to MacHale Park tomorrow come out on top, it would be the first time since 1987 that Galway have recorded three successive championship wins over Mayo.The captain knows this Galway-Mayo fixture carries greater weight than recent years.

There’s too much on the line for it to not.

“It’s weird to have a big game so early in the year, but the biggest thing is that it’s a long road for whoever loses. Mayo have been through that long journey for the past two years, so they’ll be eagerly anticipating that they don’t go through that again.

“With us having come out on top the last two years, Mayo are going to be coming hungry. We’ll just have to be ready for what they bring and hopefully, we’ll come out on top for the third time.

“They’ve been to the well many times now and have a real core group of players who have been there and done it for several years. You learn a lot from them and you’d be wondering what we’re doing wrong when they’re going on to an All-Ireland final, and if we can get over them, why can’t we get over other teams.

That’s consistency. We showed we have that in the league. Hopefully, we’ll bring it into summer.

“Exciting times, we’re looking forward to it.”


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