Sunday 24 September 2017

Connacht SFC Preview: Mayo are still the favourites

County by County guide

Donie Shine - when he ticks the Rossies tick.
Donie Shine - when he ticks the Rossies tick.
Cliona Foley

Cliona Foley

While Mayo are the provincial favourites, cracks are appearing and Galway's prospects are improving.

Galway

All-Ireland titles: 9 (most recent 2001)

Connacht titles: 40 (most recent 2008)

Manager: Alan Mulholland (third season)

Captain: Paul Conroy

Last year: Galway 0-11, Mayo 4-16; Galway 1-12, Tipperary 0-11 (qualifiers, Rd 1); Galway 1-12, Waterford 0-14 (Rd 2); Galway 1-11, Armagh 0-9 (Rd 3); Cork 1-17, Galway 1-16 (Rd 4).

2014 NFL: Third last in Division 2: P7, W2, D1, L4.

Last big championship achievement: 2008 Connacht champions

Key man: Former All-Ireland winning minor Paul Conroy, though their repetitive injuries and the need to fill gaps elsewhere has meant he has too often been a victim of his own versatility.

Who could make a name for himself? The Varley twins. Adrian's progress has been hampered by injury this year but he's a quality forward and Paul, who also won an U-21 All-Ireland last year, impressed at wing-back during the league campaign.

Prospects: Much better than last year because they're on the other side of draw away from Mayo. Have to beat London and Sligo to make first Connacht final since 2009.

Betting: Connacht 6/1; All-Ireland 55/1

First game: May 25 versus London (Ruislip)

Leitrim

All-Ireland titles: 0

Connacht titles: 2 (1994)

Manager: Sean Hagan (first season)

Captain: Emlyn Mulligan

Last year: Leitrim 4-19, New York 0-7; Leitrim 0-13, London 2-7; London 2-11, Leitrim 1-13 (replay); Armagh 8-13, Leitrim 0-10 (qualifiers, Rd 2).

2014 NFL: Fourth in Division 4: P7, W4, D1, L2.

Last big championship achievement: Beating Sligo in Markievicz Park three years ago.

Key man: Emlyn Mulligan. A fabulous natural striker of the ball, from play and frees, who has responded well to being made captain.

Who could make a name for himself? Full-forward Conor Beirne's recall since the league indicates he could figure, but it was wing-forwards Fergal Clancy and Kevin Conlan who really caught the eye during the Division 4 campaign.

Prospects: Not good as they're on the hard side of the draw with an away opener against Roscommon, with the winners facing Mayo in a semi-final.

Betting: Connacht 75/1; All Ireland 1000/1

First game: May 18 versus Roscommon (Dr Hyde Park)

London

All-Ireland titles: 0

Connacht titles: 0

Manager: Paul Coggins (fourth season)

Captain: Lorcan Mulvey

Last year: London 1-12, Sligo 0-14; London 2-7, Leitrim 0-13; London 2-11, Leitrim 1-13; Mayo 5-11, London 0-10 (Connacht final); Cavan 1-17, London 1-8 (qualifiers, Rd 4).

2014 NFL: Joint last with Carlow in Division 4: P7, W1, L5, D1.

Last big championship achievement: Beating Sligo and Leitrim (in a replay) last summer to reach their first Connacht final.

Key man: Lorcan Mulvey. He has been dogged by injury this season but London are hopeful that the ex-Cavan senior, who is the first London player to be nominated for an All Star, will be 100pc for the Galway game.

Who could make a name for himself? Among their new acquisitions is Mayo 2013 panellist Michael Walsh, but the one who could have a bigger impact is ex-Galway 'keeper Adrian Faherty, who also takes their long-range frees

Prospects: The Exiles did last year what they've threatened for three years but if they beat Galway they have to go to Markievicz Park and it's hard to see them repeating last year's heroics.

Betting: Connacht 175/1; All-Ireland 5000/1

First game: May 25 v Galway (Ruislip)

Mayo

All-Ireland titles: 3 (1951)

Connacht titles: 45 (2013)

Manager: James Horan (fourth season)

Captain: Andy Moran

Last year: Mayo 4-16, Galway 0-11; Mayo 0-21, Roscommon 0-9; Mayo 5-11, London 0-10 (Connacht final); Mayo 4-17, Donegal 1-10; Mayo 1-16, Tyrone 0-13; Dublin 2-12, Mayo 1-14 (All-Ireland final).

2014 NFL: Finished third in group stages but lost to 14-man Derry in semi-finals: P8, W4 D1, L3.

Last big championship achievement: Won their first Connacht three-in-a-row since 1982-84 last year and reached second consecutive All-Ireland final but still haven't won one since 1951.

Key man: Aidan O'Shea. If O'Shea plays well for the full 70 minutes Mayo usually win and he and Jason Gibbons have formed a new midfield partnership.

Who could make a name for himself? Mikey Sweeney. Another diminutive, nippy corner-forward in the Mickey Conroy mould who broke into the team on his form with intermediate club Kiltane.

Prospects: Good, but not as gilt-edged as before. An early run-out against New York has steadied the ship and they're still favourites for a four-in-a-row but cracks appeared against 14-man Dublin and Derry that they've got to sort out.

Betting: Connacht 1/4; All-Ireland 9/2

Next game: Roscommon or Leitrim in an away semi-final on June 8

Roscommon

All-Ireland titles: 2 (1944)

Connacht titles: 20 (2010)

Manager: John Evans (second season)

Captain: Niall Carty

Last year: Roscommon 0-9 Mayo 0-21 (Connacht semi-final); Tyrone 0-12 Roscommon 1-7 (qualifiers, Rd 2)

2014 NFL: Won Division 3 title, beating Cavan in the final 1-17 to 0-18: P8, W7, D0, L1.

Last big championship achievement: Winning Connacht in 2010 and finalists in 2011.

Key man: Donie Shine. When he ticks, the Rossies tick, and he was the one who upped their pace in the league final. His season has been interrupted with a hamstring injury so it's vital for the Rossies that he's back to full fitness.

Who could make a name for himself? Diarmuid Murtagh. The former minor star from St Faithleach's has led their U-21 attack heroically this year and looks ready to make an impact at senior level.

Prospects: Good, but they'll have to beat Mayo to make the final. Optimism is high after their league title, however. They have home advantage against Leitrim and are home again if they win but can they then make the huge leap to beat the champions?

Betting: Connacht 15/2; All Ireland 80/1

First game: May 18 v Leitrim (Dr Hyde Park)

Sligo

All-Ireland titles: 0

Connacht titles: 3 (2007)

Manager: Pat Flanagan (first season)

Captain: Adrian Marren

Last year: London 1-12 Sligo 0-14; Derry 0-15 Sligo 0-8 (qualifiers Rd 1)

2014 NFL: Fourth in Division 3: P7, W3, D0, L4.

Last big championship achievement: 2007 Connacht champions

Key man: Forward ace David Kelly, who is finally back to top form after recovering from the injuries that dogged him for a few seasons.

Who could make a name for himself? Aidan Devaney. Like all modern goalkeepers, Sligo's new netminder is adept at long-range freetaking as well as shot-stopping.

Prospects: Their form in Division 3 wasn't convincing but, with home advantage and a bye to the semi-final, they only have to beat Galway or London to make the Connacht final.

Betting: Connacht 20/1; All-Ireland 150/1

First game: Bye to a semi-final on June 21 v London or Galway (Markievicz Park)

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