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Connacht facing top-flight wipeout in both codes as Mayo and Galway battle for survival

CONNACHT is facing a massive test of its stature over the next two weekends as it attempts to ensure continued representation in the top flight of the Allianz football and hurling leagues in 2013.

There is now a distinct possibility that no Connacht county will be in Division 1 of the football league next season -- something which hasn't happened for 15 years -- while last Sunday's defeat to Waterford has dragged Galway's hurlers into the Division 1A relegation zone.

If Galway beat Kilkenny at Nowlan Park on Sunday, they will almost certainly qualify for the semi-finals from a hugely competitive group, but defeat would leave them facing a relegation play-off if Dublin lose to Waterford.

Connacht's situation is even starker in football as Mayo need to take at least one point from their remaining two games against Dublin (home) and Kerry (away) to have any real chance of survival. And that wouldn't be enough if Laois or Donegal win their final game.

Following a promising start to the campaign, Mayo have dipped into the relegation zone after successive defeats to Down, Donegal and Cork.

Galway, who dropped down to Division 2 last season, remain in contention for a quick return to the top flight, but they need to beat Kildare at Pearse Stadium on Sunday week to overtake the Lilywhites and join Tyrone on the promotion route.

If Galway lose or draw and Mayo fail to take any points from their clashes with last year's All-Ireland finalists, it would leave Connacht without representation in Division 1 for the first time since the 1996-97 season.

And there there is not much joy for the western province further down the line either, as Roscommon and Sligo are out of contention for promotion from Division 3, while Leitrim have only the slimmest of chances of escaping from Division 4.

The last three weekends have brought a serious dip in Mayo's fortunes as they slid from top of the Division 1 table to sixth after losing three games.

It leaves them extremely vulnerable as they prepare for the second visit of the season by Dublin to Castlebar on Saturday, prior to heading to Tralee to take on Kerry in their final group game on Sunday week.

Mayo must now be regretting that their game with Dublin was abandoned at half-time due to fog on February 11 for, while the hosts were three points behind, the All-Ireland champions were facing the second half with only 14 men after wing-back James McCarthy had been sent off.

Dublin had lost to Kerry a week earlier, while Mayo had beaten Laois, so James Horan's men would have been quite confident of using the extra man to generate a winning impetus in the second half.

Six weeks later, the scenario has changed dramatically. Although Dublin lost to Down last Sunday week, they have shown excellent form against Laois, Armagh and Donegal.

They look a whole lot more formidable now than at the start of the campaign, whereas Mayo's confidence has taken a heavy hit in recent weeks -- most especially against Cork last Sunday when they surrendered a five-point lead in the final quarter to lose by one.

Mayo's slump has left them them and Laois as favourites for the drop to Division 2, which would be a major setback ahead of the Connacht championship.

Mayo went into this year's league with an impressive record as the only county to have remained in the top flight since the divisions underwent a major shake-up for the 1997-98 season.

And when they won their first two games against Laois and Armagh this year, Mayo looked certain to not only prolong their stay, but also to qualify comfortably for the semi-finals.

In theory, they could still do that, but it would take a remarkable turnaround in fortunes for them to beat Dublin and Kerry in their last two games.

encouragement

However, one possible source of encouragement -- certainly in terms of avoiding relegation -- is that Kerry have already qualified for the semi-finals and may not be on full power for Mayo's visit to Tralee.

Galway will have their promotion fate in their own hands when they play Kildare in Pearse Stadium on Sunday week. A win would secure promotion, while a draw or a win for the Lilywhites would see Kieran McGeeney's men return to Division 1 next season for the first time 2008.

It's quite a turnaround for Kildare, who were joint bottom of the table with Westmeath and Derry in early March after losing their first two games.

However, they have since beaten Meath, Louth, Derry and Westmeath, scoring an average of almost 23 points per game. They have also banished their goal shyness, hitting a total of seven in their last three games.

Kildare are favourites to clinch promotion but will be conscious that they have a bad record against Galway over the years.

Irish Independent