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Tribalism the biggest threat to Mayo reign

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Manager James Horan is desperate for Mayo to lift a fourth successive Connacht title, but Galway stand in his side's way. Photo: Pat Murphy / SPORTSFILE

Manager James Horan is desperate for Mayo to lift a fourth successive Connacht title, but Galway stand in his side's way. Photo: Pat Murphy / SPORTSFILE

Manager James Horan is desperate for Mayo to lift a fourth successive Connacht title, but Galway stand in his side's way. Photo: Pat Murphy / SPORTSFILE

If the severity of Galway's trimming by Mayo in last year's Connacht championship called for an immediate combing of the record books for precedents, the odds for Sunday's Connacht final show that the markets suspect little has changed in 14 months.

At 2/9, Mayo are regarded as certainties to win a fourth successive Connacht title for the first time in 63 years, leaving Galway (7/2) to begin a difficult pick-up process for the fourth round of the All-Ireland qualifiers.

Yet if James Horan was watching Brazil capitulate so meekly at home to Germany on Tuesday night, he may well have wondered if the gods might choose to toss a mischievous grenade into McHale Park next Sunday.

For while this Galway team is far from being Gaelic football's equivalent of Germany, there's enough evidence in the history of their clashes with Mayo to suggest that the script is rarely as legible as it might appear from a distance.

There have been several occasions over the decades when either Galway or Mayo won against the odds in a rivalry that has always been incredibly close.

"When Mayo play Galway, you have rivalry and respect but you never have fear.

"There's nothing either county likes more than to down the other when they're going well," said John O'Mahony, who has experienced it from both sides.

He was Mayo manager in 1990 and 2007 when Galway beat them unexpectedly while turning the tables on his native county in similar circumstances in his first season with their neighbours in 1998.

The latter win marked a major turning point in Galway's fortunes; it was the start of a great adventure which ended four months later with Sam Maguire returning to Eyre Square for the first time in 32 years.

"I suppose one difference between the Galway team then and now was that they had a lot of experienced players in 1998, driven on by some great young talent.

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"They don't have the same experience now but they certainly have some very good young players and the incentive is certainly there to turn Mayo over," said O'Mahony.

Still, incentive alone won't come anywhere close to bridging the 17-point gap which Mayo opened up in Pearse Stadium last year as they enjoyed their biggest championship win against Galway for 106 years.

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"No doubt about it, that was an awful day for Galway but the big test for teams or individuals is how they recover from a big setback.

"If Galway win on Sunday, last year will be forgotten. It's all about now and the future.

"Galway's pride was so badly hurt last year they must be relishing this chance to put things right, as they would see it.

"I was at their game with Sligo and could see a clear change in the course of the 70 minutes.

"They were lacking in confidence a bit early on but as they got on top and began to enjoy themselves, they played with a bit of the swagger you'd associate with Galway teams.

"Now, Sligo may not be as strong as Mayo, but everything is relative. Once confidence comes, it can build quickly," said O'Mahony.

The big question surrounding Mayo is whether they have regressed from last year when they reached the All-Ireland final, losing to Dublin by a point.

The Allianz League semi-final defeat to 14-man Derry raised some concerns, especially in light of Derry's dismal performance against Dublin in the final and, of course, their All-Ireland qualifier defeat by Longford.

Mayo's laboured performance against Roscommon further added to the doubts about Horan's crew.

"The signals haven't been great but you'd have to be impressed by the resilience they showed against Roscommon.

"They could be timing their run just right and if they win on Sunday, no questions will be asked about the Derry and Roscommon games.

"They will be back in Croke Park, all focus will be on the All-Ireland attempts," said O'Mahony.

O'Mahony believes that Mayo's greater experience and physical strength will see them safely through on Sunday but that Galway will offer a sufficiently stern resistance to leave them with a good chance of reaching the All-Ireland quarter-final with a fourth round qualifier win.

"That would be progress for Galway. It's crucial for them that they put in a really good performance on Sunday.

"The incentives are certainly there and, of course, history shows that past form often counts for nothing in Galway-Mayo games. Tribalism takes over and, when it does, anything can happen," he said.

 

Galway v Mayo: When the formbook was shredded

2007 Connacht quarter-final, Pearse Stadium

Galway 2-10 Mayo 0-9

Mayo had reached the 2006 All-Ireland final and the 2007 Allianz League final, losing both, but still seemed better primed than Galway. With John O'Mahony beginning his second stint as Mayo manager, expectations were high in the county but two first-half goals from Cormac Bane made it all so easy for Galway. It turned out to be a false dawn as Sligo beat Galway in the Connacht final.

1998 Connacht quarter-final, Castlebar

Galway 1-13 Mayo 2-6

Beaten All-Ireland finalists in 1996 and '97, seasons in which they also beat Galway, Mayo were hotly fancied in Castlebar, only to be upended by the new-look visitors. It was O'Mahony's first championship game as Galway manager in what turned into an All-Ireland winning season. Mayo led by four points after 23 minutes, but their strike rate dried up in the second half, a period in which they only scored one point.

1990 Connacht semi-final, Tuam Stadium

Galway 2-11 Mayo 1-12

Mayo had won the Connacht championship for the previous two years and also reached the 1989 All-Ireland final under O'Mahony, but came unstuck in Tuam against a Galway team they had well beaten the year before. In fairness to Mayo, they were weakened by a number of injuries and a John Tobin-managed Galway side took full advantage.

1981 Connacht semi-final, Castlebar

Mayo 2-8 Galway 1-9

Galway had bounded into the game as new hotshots after winning the National League title six weeks earlier. They beat All-Ireland champions Kerry in the semi-final and four-time Connacht champions Roscommon in the final. Mayo hadn't won a Connacht title since 1969, but certainly weren't short of confidence as they stunned Galway.

1967 Connacht semi-final, Pearse Stadium

Mayo 3-13 Galway 1-8

One of Mayo's most famous wins, they ended Galway's bid for an All-Ireland four-in-a-row with a powerful display. Galway had beaten Mayo in their previous seven Connacht championship game over 13 years, but the All-Ireland champions were demolished on a day when Johnny Farragher, Mick Ruane, Joe Corcoran and Seamus O'Dowd scored 3-10 between them for the rampant visitors.


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