Posted by Christy O'Connor
Friday 17 June 2016
From our GAA Experts to football fans all over Ireland, this week's Win, Lose or Draw predictions are starting to take shape.
Before Mayo and Galway met in the 2013 Connacht championship, some commentators were talking about a potential shock. Mayo had narrowly lost the 2012 All-Ireland final to Donegal but Galway had just won their second All-Ireland U-21 title in three years and were coming into the summer with real momentum. Nobody knew where Mayo stood. They had just come off the back of of a disappointing league semi-final defeat to Dublin and were struck down by an injury-crisis before the Galway match.
The week beforehand, Mayo went on a training camp to Belmullet. At a team meeting on the Saturday, the mood and tempo was set for Galway. It didn’t matter who Mayo were missing, the 15 players selected were going to introduce Galway’s young guns to the big time. Mayo set out to make a big statement about their renewed All-Ireland intentions. They did. Mayo inflicted their heaviest defeat on Galway since 1907. The final margin was 17 points. It could have been 25.
That day appeared to mark a turning point in the Galway-Mayo relationship. Despite’s Mayo’s status at that time, Galway never had any fear of their neighbours. They always believed they could beat them. At that time in 2013, there was nothing between the counties in terms of Connacht senior titles: 45 to Mayo, 44 to Galway. On the All-Ireland roll of honour though, Galway tower above Mayo on a count of 9:3. Those historical comparisons with Galway always hurt Mayo the most. What’s more, that record always enhanced Galway’s confidence levels, irrespective of where they stood at that particular time, whenever they faced their arch rivals.
This decade though, has belonged to Mayo. That dominance has forced Galway into a serious revaluation of their historical relationship. When the sides met last June, Galway were lively and competitive but they still couldn’t stop Mayo emulating a 109-year-old benchmark by recording a fifth successive championship win against their neighbours.
Despite the huge work that Kevin Walsh and his management have invested in this team in the meantime, this Galway team doesn’t look any stronger now than it was then. Micheal Lundy, Johnny Duane and Fiontán Ó Curraoin have gone to the US. O Curraoin, their marquee midfielder for the last three seasons, only left recently. At least Shane Walsh, who didn’t play against Mayo last year, is back.
Galway left their full-back line completely exposed that day, especially Finian Hanley, and Aidan O’Shea cleaned up. Galway spent much of the league trying to construct a new full-back line and they go with a whole new inside trio from last June now. Two of the five debutants who start – Eoghan Kerin and David Wynne – are the corner-backs. Behind them, goalkeeper Bernard Power is also making his debut.
The Galway defence committed too many fouls last June and they were ruthlessly punished by Cillian O’Connor, who kicked eight points from nine placed balls. O’Connor went into that game after only just returning from injury. He missed Mayo’s first five league games this spring with injury too but early season game-time has never been a prerequisite for O’Connor to have a productive summer.
For a number of reasons, primarily injury, O’Connor has only featured in 17 of Mayo’s last 39 league games over the last five seasons. His statistics within those numbers though, illustrate just how important he has become to Mayo. When O’Connor played, Mayo had a 69% win rate. When he didn’t, that figure plummeted to just 24%.
O’Connor only only played two league games this spring but they were two of the three games Mayo won. O’Connor has been so brilliant and so consistent now for six seasons that it’s easy to forget he is still only 24. By 20, he had become the first player to win successive Young Footballer-of-the-Year awards. He has been the championship’s top scorer over the last three seasons. In those three campaigns, O’Connor has clocked an astonishing 14-92, an average of 8.4 points per game. In each of those three seasons, O’Connor was also in the top five scorers from play.
Galway will need to stop the supply into O’Connor. Despite O Curraoin’s loss, Galway will look to at least break even at midfield. Paul Conroy’s form has been mixed but they will hope he can get on top and get enough direct ball into Damien Comer and Danny Cummins, who caused Mayo some problems last year. Comer was one of the league’s top scorers from play with 3-8 but he was out for a spell in May after getting injured in a club hurling game.
Mayo were only in a position to tog out 25 players against London, but most of those who missed that match – including Alan Freeman, Seamus O’Shea, Tom Parsons, Diarmuid O’Connor, Ger Cafferkey and Donie Vaughan – were able to take some part in Mayo’s subsequent training camp in London Irish Rugby Club's Hazelwood Centre. Parsons is the only change Stephen Rochford makes to the team from the London match, with him replacing All Ireland U-21 winning captain Stephen Coen at midfield.
Galway have to try and break a trend which has become a stranglehold, even at underage. The minors did beat their neighbours last year but Galway had two excellent minor teams in 2013 and 2014 and they fell to Mayo in both seasons.
Galway were always capable of ambushing their great rivals but it’s been 2007 since that happened. Mayo had been in the previous year’s All-Ireland final but the game was in Salthill while Galway had Padraic Joyce, Derek Savage, Michael Meehan and Ja Fallon in their starting attack that day. This Galway team has nobody of that quality.
Mayo are the team with the pedigree now. Galway are trying to get up to that level but it has remained a struggle. They did put themselves in a position to qualify for Division 1 in the league but they still only won two games from seven. Down the home straight, when they desperately needed points, Galway picked up just one in their last two matches against Fermanagh and Cavan. The league is the league but that still isn’t the form to suggest that Galway can take Mayo down in Castlebar, a venue where Mayo haven’t been beaten in championship since 2008.
This is Mayo’s time now. If they hit full throttle, they could win by five or six points.
Here's who our GAA experts are predicting will win all this weekends games;
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Tyrone to win: 90%
Cavan to win: 8%
Mayo to win: 95%
Galway to win: 3%
Laois to win: 51%
Armagh to win: 46%
Derry to win: 86%
Louth to win: 13%
Carlow to win: 33%
Wicklow to win: 61%
Leitrim to win: 60%
Waterford to win: 37%
That's the way the mood is going for this weekend's games - now it's time to make your predictions for the chance to win two All-Ireland Final tickets.
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