Fresh from our penalty shootout dramatics up in Carrick last Sunday, the next pre-season test for James Horan and his Mayo team comes this weekend. Galway provide the opposition in Sunday’s FBD League semi-final at Tuam Stadium, where throw-in is fixed for 1.30pm.
Neither side will, I’m sure, be keen to ascribe any significance to this January derby clash. The League is still a few weeks from getting underway and both counties are in the process of preparing themselves for what’s likely to be a searching Division One campaign.
To that extent, there’s little to be gained by either side from turning Sunday’s meeting into some kind of virility test. The problem they’ll face, though, is that it’s going to be hard to avoid this happening.
In his first period as manager, James Horan never lost to Galway. Our win over them in Tuam in the 2011 League campaign helped the neighbours on their way to relegation from the top tier at the end of that spring campaign.
Victory over them in Connacht that summer, as well as further successes in 2013 and 2014, followed. All three victories were decisive, the 2013 one in Salthill was an absolute hammering.
But that was then. When Kevin Walsh took his team to Castlebar for the Connacht semi-final in 2016 they hadn’t beaten us in the championship for eight years but their shock victory over us that day reset the prevailing narrative between us.
Since then they’ve beaten us every time they’ve played us. Twice more in the championship, with wins over us last year in the FBD and the League as well. Last year alone they got the better of us on no fewer than three occasions.
While Kevin Walsh hasn’t an unbeaten record against us – he was their manager when Pat and Noel led us to victory in Salthill in the 2015 Connacht semi-final – he never lost to us when we had Stephen Rochford in charge. He has three unbeaten years in the bank against us at this stage.
So, while not exactly a case of irresistible force meeting immovable object, Sunday’s pre-season meeting does have some significance in terms of both managers’ records against their respective opponents. Something has to give.
In the wider scheme of things, of course, how Sunday’s match goes isn’t all that important. Both managers will want to give game-time to fringe players and both will have their thoughts at least partly focused on the bigger challenges they face further down the road this year.
But neither of them will go out of their way to lose this match either. Even if this one, like last Sunday, ends up going to penalties.