This weekend will see Galway take on Roscommon in the Connacht final, with both counties expected to claim glory and capitalise on Mayo’s early exit from the provincial championship.
Mayo’s defeat at the hands of Galway will see the J.J Nestor Cup reside outside Mayo for the first time since Roscommon’s win against Sligo in 2010. Galway’s last title was in 2008, which is certainly a long barren spell for the Galway football public.
While Mayo’s dominance at senior level has been much publicised, the dominance of both Galway and Roscommon at U-21 level mustn’t go unnoticed.
From 2010 to 2015, Galway and Roscommon have shared the six Connacht U-21 titles on offer with the Rossies claiming glory on four occasions. However, on the two occasions that Galway have won the province, they have also gone on to claim All-Ireland glory.
Both teams are littered with talent from these successful underage sides and it’s time for both teams to deliver at senior level, but only one team can capitalise on Mayo’s lapse this year. The pressure is on.
After a fantastic Division One campaign for Roscommon, joint managers Fergal O’Donnell and Kevin McStay won’t be overly satisfied with their championship form.
They overcame New York by a single point, recovered in the dispatching of Leitrim by 1-21 to 0-11 before leaking a massive 2-13 in their 4-16 to 2-13 defeat of Sligo. It hasn’t been the most convincing run to the provincial final for last year’s Division two winners.
The half forward line of Fintan Gregg, Ciaran Murtagh and Conor Devaney have been in sublime scoring form, scoring a staggering 4-24 between them in their three championship games to date. Niall Daly will lead the team from the engine room while the ever present Seanie McDermott and Sean Purcell will look to shore up the defence against a potent Galway attack.
Galway are a young side too and like Roscommon, it’s time to deliver. An unexpected victory over Mayo has brought Kevin Walsh’s team to a first Connacht decider since 2014. Walsh has blended youth with experience and his team performed admirably in the win over their neighbours in Castlebar.
The likes of Thomas Flynn, Shane Walsh and Damien Comer from the 2013 All-Ireland U-21-winning side form a backbone to today’s senior team. Flynn is capable of dominating any game and Roscommon will need to break even in the aerial battles to deny the Tribesmen victory on home soil, while Damien Comer and the skilful Walsh lead a vibrant Galway attack.
Both counties will be eager to claim success this weekend as the win could be a springboard for further glory in the future. It is vital to both sides that the U-21 success can be carried through to the biggest stage.
Often, successful minor and U-21 players fail to deliver at senior level and with Mayo’s dominance, it was looking unlikely that both Galway and Roscommon could fulfil their potential.
However, Sunday is a massive opportunity for both sides and could be a starting post for one county to go on to greater things.
A keenly contested final awaits.
Seán Ó Murchú, Pundit Arena