Ciarán Murphy: League final defeats killed the buzz around Galway and Mayo

Both counties headed to Croke Park two and a half weeks ago in reasonably high spirits

The idea of playing national league finals, rather than just anointing the team that finishes on top of each eight team division as the champions, is something that the GAA will probably look at as the season concertinas further and further inwards.

In Divisions 2, 3, and 4 the final is a nice little occasion, but promotion is always the name of the game. In Division 1, where the champions are nominally at least part of a lineage going back to the 1920s, it would also put a halt to this endless chatter about who actually wants to be in the final in the first place. And for every team it would free up another week, to be re-allocated elsewhere in the summer.

If you canvassed opinion in Galway and Mayo on that particular topic in the last few weeks, you could bet on some full-throated support.

Both counties headed to Croke Park two and a half weeks ago in reasonably high spirits. Galway had won all the games that had mattered in the year so far, the loss in round seven of Division 2 to Roscommon a mere accounting exercise as they had already been promoted by then.

For Mayo, the league had gone some way to rehabilitating the team in the eyes of their fans after last year’s bruising All-Ireland final defeat to Tyrone. The winter had been long and full of recriminations, but the win against Dublin in Croke Park in particular had shown glimpses of growth and evolution in the team.

Galway picked a team in the league final with Mayo very much in mind

And then April 3rd happened. Galway lost, as they so often do, to Roscommon, while their supporters - this correspondent included - somehow managed to be surprised at that development, again. Confidence going to Castlebar couldn't have been any lower than it was at 3.45pm in Croker that day, until David Clifford did what he did, and Kerry did what they did, and suddenly Mayo looked to have even more questions to answer than Galway had.

Questions

The most damaged-beyond-repair part of the day as a whole was the idea that this Connacht quarter-final on Sunday in Castlebar at 4pm was a battle between two highly skilled, upwardly mobile All-Ireland contenders.

For both teams, it appears, some problems are intractable. For Galway, there still remain questions at goalkeeper, in the full-back line, and at midfield.

And Mayo’s travails up front look like continuing into 2022. Then again, as Kevin McStay said on the Mayo News football podcast recently, that’s been a problem they’ve been dealing with for the last 50 years or so, so no change there.

Galway picked a team in the league final with Mayo very much in mind. Sean Kelly may well have been ear-marked from early in the season as the man who could corral Matthew Ruane, so playing him at midfield in the league final made sense. But his absence was so keenly felt from the full-back line that it would be hard to see that experiment continuing this Sunday.

They gave lightly tested players a chance in the full-back line to stake their claim and neither Jack Glynn or Sean Fitzgerald really made themselves undroppable. Kieran Molloy has had a progressive league but had troubles with Enda Smith.

Injuries

The concession of the late Diarmuid Murtagh goal - eerily similar to a goal Ruane scored in the Connacht final last year - was the winning and losing of the game, and while Finnian Ó Laoí and Johnny Heaney were picked with legs very much in mind, questions still remain about Galway's ability to live with Mayo's runners.

So much of the build-up in Mayo is around injuries, and with little or no information coming out of the camp, it’s hard to get an accurate read on just how they’re fixed.

But a Mayo team without all of Robbie Hennelly, Paddy Durcan, Oisin Mullin, Brendan Harrison, Eoghan McLoughlin, Jordan Flynn, Diarmuid O'Connor, and with perhaps an 80 per cent fit Cillian O'Connor press-ganged into playing to add some leadership into the vacuum left by all those absentees, has got to be vulnerable.

The indications are that Diarmuid O’Connor, Mullin and maybe Durcan should be fit to play, but that still leaves Mayo short a few weapons that have proven capable of hurting Galway in the past.

There is also a temptation when teams are beset with injuries to focus on them, at the expense of some rather more long-term problems.

Without Cillian, and presuming Ryan O’Donoghue wears the number 15 shirt - would you be more or less confident that the players wearing numbers five to nine for Mayo would contribute more scores than the players wearing 10 to 14?

Not many people would back the five forwards not named Ryan O’Donoghue with too much confidence in that equation.

Meanwhile Roscommon have the most balanced, skilful forward line in Connacht, with a solid midfield and a good defence. And they haven’t lost all year. But I’ve already said too much. I help no-one with that kind of outburst, least of all the Rossies themselves. Still no-one takes them seriously, and that’s just the way they like it.