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Irish Mirror
Irish Mirror
Colm Boyle

Colm Boyle column: Mayo and Galway to finish the League as they started it with a humdinger

Mayo and Galway started the League with a bang and I expect they’ll finish it out in similar fashion tomorrow.

Granted, the fare in Division One hasn’t been great overall but the intensity was off the charts for a League opener when they met at the end of January and serves as a possible indication of what’s to come.

Mayo have stolen most of the headlines since as a new-look team under Kevin McStay’s management has been heralded but Galway, in their own way, have been just as impressive in Padraic Joyce’s fourth season at the helm.

READ MORE: Bulkier Galway panel has more staying power now - Damien Comer

So, who needs the win more?

A national title in his first year would be terrific for McStay and set a solid foundation for what he hopes to go on and achieve. It would also be a fillup for his assistant Stephen Rochford, who didn’t win Connacht or League titles during his three-year tenure, when he came so close to the ultimate prize in 2016 and ‘17.

Galway have lost too many finals for Joyce’s liking over the past few years. There was a Division Two final defeat last year, they won just one of the last three Connacht finals that they’ve been in and obviously lost last year’s All-Ireland final too. So, getting a result tomorrow would fuel the belief within their camp that they are a team that is now more than capable of dining at the top table.

Regardless of the result, there is an argument that Galway have gained more from the League than Mayo. Their lack of depth cost them in the closing stages of last year’s All-Ireland final.

Granted, they have lost Kieran Molloy and Liam Silke but the return of Peter Cooke, Ian Burke and the development of John Maher, Cathal Sweeney and Tomo Culhane does appear to have made them stronger.

They have reached this League final with Shane Walsh, Damien Comer and Robert Finnerty playing minimal roles and they have built resilience along the way.

Very fine margins may decide this, with little to choose between the teams. Like in any big game, match-ups will play a key part.

Aidan O'Shea v Sean Kelly will be an intriguing battle. Kelly will try to use attack as the best form of defence and bring O'Shea away from goal when Galway have possession.

How Mayo deals with this will be fascinating. Will there be a plan in place for a Mayo half-forward to pick up the mantle and track Kelly, allowing O Shea to stay high and possibly create mis-matches on turnovers.

Down the other end, with no Lee Keegan or Oisin Mullin anymore, Paddy Durcan is the only Mayo defender that has the pace and power to deal with Walsh.

This match-up may require Durcan to play out of position and closer to the Mayo goal then he would like.

We may well be entering a period where these two teams will meet at the business end of League and Championship campaigns on a regular basis. The age profile of both sides suggests that they won’t be going away any time soon.

This one may require extra time, but I fancy Mayo just to edge it.

Derry must heed lessons of Celtic Park to catch Dubs again

It'll be interesting as to what frame of mind Derry arrive into Croke Park with tomorrow.

Will it be a team that is going gung-ho about taking a big scalp in Croke Park or one that has already switched off with promotion secured and reverted to Championship mode?

If they are to go after Dublin in a meaningful contest, they will need to absorb lessons from their win in Celtic Park a few weeks ago.

For the first 45 minutes that day they were far too passive, sitting back and not engaging Dublin players, who passed and probed until they found a scoring opportunity.

If they allow Dublin that time and space in Croke Park they could be in for a long afternoon.

They were also far too slow moving the ball which has become a trademark of their play. It allows for players coming from deep to get into their attacking formation and their now well versed five-man full forward line structure.

It was their direct runners that caused Dublin most problems though, and Brendan Rogers and Gareth McKinless in particular. I would expect James McCarthy to go toe-to-toe with Rogers from the start to stop those penetrating runs.

Dublin weren’t hugely impressive last weekend. Most of the talk around the game surrounded the return of Stephen Cluxton.

How David O'Hanlon deals with the pressure of having the most influential goalkeeper in the history of the game will be fascinating.

There were also returns for Paddy Small and Paul Mannion and they are getting players back at just the right time.

One thing I’ve noticed is that they have been far more direct in the last couple of games. I expect more of the same that they will try and build a platform from playing like that to really kickstart their season.

I expect they’ll add the Division Two title to their trophy cabinet.

Most at stake in the Division Three final

Dublin's Ciaran Kilkenny with Niall Loughlin of Derry (©INPHO/Evan Treacy)

This is arguably the game with the most riding on it this weekend, with the winners in a good position to pick up a Sam Maguire slot if results go their way in April and May.

Cavan appear best placed to take advantage and their Croke Park experience over the last number of years should stand to them.

After this, they will look ahead to a likely Ulster quarter-final against a seemingly vulnerable Armagh team in three weeks’ time.

Fermanagh have been one of the stories of the League and will be relishing a trip to Croke Park but Cavan should ultimately have too much quality for them.

Intriguing sideline battle between McConville and McEntee

There's a great back story the Division Four final with two Crossmaglen legends going head-to-head on the sideline.

However, Sligo’s attention could be already turning to next weekend’s Championship game in London.

They showed great resilience last Sunday against Leitrim to eventually win a match that they very nearly threw away.

They should follow up their six-point win in Aughrim earlier in the League with another victory in Croke Park.


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