For the third Saturday in a row we’re back up on the Championship tightrope. It’s another chance to progress in this campaign – this time to the Super 8s – but if things don’t go well it could be the night on which it all ends for us. The ball is set to be thrown in at the Gaelic Grounds in our Round 4 qualifier against Galway at 7pm and Cavan’s Joe McQuillan is the ref.
This one really is a toss-up. There’s very little between the two sides and while it’s easy to make arguments in favour of either of them, it’s harder to imagine an emphatic victory for one or the other.
Let’s advance the case for Galway first. Their recent record against us is excellent, with a winning run over us in all competitive fixtures stretching back to 2016. We find it very hard to cope with their style and in each of the last three summers they’ve beaten us.
While they, like us, have had injury problems this year, it’s also the case that they haven’t been hit with the kind of hammer blows that have landed on us. Cooke starts, Flynn too and more of their sidelined contingent could feature off the bench, Comer included.
Accustomed to beating us and facing a team weakened to a greater extent by injuries than they have, it follows that Galway have to have a great chance tonight. That’s before you consider that, under Kevin Walsh, the Tribesmen only ever seem to show an unbridled desire to win when they’re facing us.
But our cause is far from hopeless. While we’ve been badly weakened by the losses we’ve suffered, others have stepped up. The team we’ve named to start has bags of big game experience – ten of them lined out in the 2017 All-Ireland final and another came on as a sub that day – allied to a fresh injection of talent. We’re likely to have good back-up on the bench as well.
We come into this game with momentum too. Provincial final losers always find it difficult in Round 4 playing against a team that has built up a head of steam in the back door. We’ve come through two tough examinations against Ulster opposition so the lads should be well versed about facing another side that sits deep and breaks fast.
Two other factors are relevant when advancing the case for a Mayo win. The first is that in recent years we’ve played our best football in the Championship when there’s no safety net under us. We never really got going properly in any of those matches since 2016 against Galway and I often wonder would we have shown the same lassitude if those ties were knockout ones.
And the inverse arguably appears to be the case with Galway. Wins over us, followed twice by Nestor Cup successes, preceded collapses in the All-Ireland Series. Thrashed by Tipperary in 2016, never raising a gallop against Kerry twelve months later and then a wretched defeat to Dublin last year – admittedly this time after a successful Super 8s run, one that included victory over Kerry – there’s more than a hint that, when the fat’s really in the fire, Galway can’t always be relied on.
These opposing arguments are, of course, no more than partial ones. So much about how this game may be decided is unknown and unknowable. That’s why, I guess, so many of us will flock to Limerick this evening. That and, I suppose, the fact that we’re all stone mad.
So, off we go again. Another do-or-die Saturday fixture, another chapter in this enthralling story of a team that refuses to make things easy for itself but whose warriors refuse to yield either.
Safe travelling to all heading to this one and the best of luck too to the ladies in their replayed Connacht final against Galway, which acts as the curtain-raiser at the Gaelic Grounds this evening. It’s all on the line again tonight, let’s all do what we can in supporting the team to make sure the lads get across that line. We can do this. Up Mayo.