The championship really kicks into gear this Sunday with the meeting of Mayo and Galway at 4pm in Castlebar in the Connacht Football Semi-Final.
A full house is expected in MacHale Park for what is the most eagerly awaited meeting between the two old rivals in years. The idea that this fixture is a must-win for both teams could be contradicted by the fact that Galway have beaten Mayo in their last two championship meetings in Connacht, with the latter going on to contest the All Ireland on both occasions.
Despite this, both camps will have prepared for the game as if it were knockout since the draw was made last October.
It’s 2018, but in all reality the same article could be written about Mayo for a few years now with the same doubts being cast over this team since 2015. It would appear Mayo have failed to unearth another forward to take considerable pressure off Cillian O’ Connor and Andy Moran.
Pundits all over the country once again question whether this ageing team can lift themselves after another agonising defeat to Dublin in an All-Ireland Final.
Full back has been a problem for Mayo for years, highlighted by the positioning of Aidan O’ Shea at the edge of his own square in last year’s All-Ireland semi-final against Kerry. Stephen Rochford has tried Donal Vaughan there on a number of occasions but reverted to type in their crucial final day win over Donegal in the league by giving Ger Cafferkey the number 3 jersey. That would leave us to believe that Cafferkey will start there again on Sunday and that Rochford has not solved the full back issues.
Prior to last year’s campaign, Mayo delighted their huge following with swashbuckling football that saw them steamroll teams from start to finish on their journey to the All-Ireland Final. However, last year they symbolised a veteran boxer clinging to the ropes with every ounce of energy, hoping to reach the twelfth round without being on the receiving end of a knockout blow.
On three separate occasions Mayo could, and should, have been knocked out of the championship. Derry, Cork and Roscommon all had their chances, but it was a testament to Mayo’s character that neither could land that fatal shot.
The average age of the Mayo team that took to the field against Dublin in last year’s final was 28.5 and this figure should not differ too much this year given the team that’s likely to start on Sunday. If Mayo were to be beaten Sunday it would be a big ask for this team to make it through the qualifiers, beat two out of the three teams they would face in the Super 8s and win a further two championship encounters to lift the Sam Maguire.
Alternatively, a win would be rewarded with a provincial semi-final tie against Sligo which they should win with relative ease before a Connacht final against Roscommon, another winnable tie.
The importance of a maturing side winning their province and qualifying for the Super 8s as a seeded team cannot be underestimated and this is why Sunday’s tussle with Galway is a must-win for Mayo.