Former Mayo forward John Casey is praying his county beat Galway on Sunday — but isn’t sure a third straight Connacht SFC defeat to their neighbours would effectively mean the end of their championship.
Having seen Mayo dust themselves off after two provincial defeats to Galway these past two seasons to reach All-Ireland finals, many believe they won’t have the appetite for a third run through the qualifiers.
However, Casey isn’t so sure.
“Look, we’ve been saying that for how long now? That’s why they are relentless and they keep coming back year after year. Even last year after Conor Loftus getting the late goal against Derry.
"You had die-hard supporters saying, ‘Just put us out of our misery.’ And this is the strangest thing that they came back and game after game they were dead and buried.
"They could have lost any amount of games last year, against Roscommon, and in the quarter-final against Kerry. Cork, they came back from nowhere. They were finished. So, it’s been a remarkable batshit crazy year, really.”
Having claimed five straight Nestor Cups, Casey knows the fact the silverware has been elusive to Mayo these last two seasons, not to mention the bragging rights Galway recaptured, are motivational factors for Mayo. But then there’s what the result could mean in the context of the All-Ireland SFC.
“It’s a massive game in the grand scheme of things. I suppose the other factor that makes it hugely important as well is I think the Connacht champions this time avoid going into a Super 8 group with a Dublin and potentially a Tyrone. That, for me, is the biggest factor for going through the front door, apart from trying to get our hands on the Nestor Cup, of course.
“Potentially, the losers in a Connacht and Munster final will end up in that difficult Super 8 group if they beat their fourth round qualifier winner. You’d nearly be better off losing in the first round in Connacht and hopefully avoid a tough Super 8 group than losing in your provincial final.
Following the league, Casey wouldn’t have been optimistic about Mayo’s chances but sings a different tune now, even though Lee Keegan is unlikely to feature.
“Things are looking fairly positive from the injury front. If you’d asked me a question a month ago, will Mayo beat Galway? I would probably have said, ‘No’.
"Ask me four weeks later down the road, I got a report back Brendan Harrison is back to full speed in training, Donal Vaughan is back, Chris Barrett is back, Cillian O’Connor sat out a couple of club games in April but he is back and raring to go for the 13th.
“So, really, only Lee now. You can’t really quantify brilliance when you are missing the likes of Lee. He is just Rolls Royce stuff. The positive of it is we have all those other players back and I think there is a steely determination to try and turn Galway over.”
RTÉ pundit Casey has no concern about Vaughan’s mindset as he hopes to make his first appearance for Mayo since last year’s final sending off.
“Donal Vaughan — it was like water off a duck’s back what happened All-Ireland final day (to) Donal Vaughan. At Tom Parsons’ wedding, (I) had a massive chat with all the Mayo lads — we had some craic too, I tell ya! The boys were able to let their hair down too because it was off-season so it was nice to see them, we had some sing song.
“But Vaughan, it was water off a duck’s back. He just cast it aside. You probably heard the stories and rumours, did this fella do this to you or was there a fella waiting for you. He doesn’t care. Mind-focus. It’s like talking to a robot, almost. Full set on getting ready for Championship. Just an amazing, brilliant, resilient bunch of fellas — you just take your hat off to them.”
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