Experienced Mayo strong favourites to see off new-look Galway

Visit to Castlebar looks a daunting task for a Galway side including five debutants

There is an impression abroad that Mayo are looking for reasons to be wary of Galway.

Superficially, some validity can be found; for instance the deficit differential over the past three years has slipped from 17 to seven to four. That implies however that Galway are incrementally closing the gap whereas Kevin Walsh’s summoning of five debutants and the assorted departures from last year’s team would suggest otherwise.

The siren call of the US has lured away players from defence, centrefield and attack during the past 12 months and if Shane Walsh’s return after a traumatic 2015 is indisputably an improvement he will need adequate support from an attack that looks configured to defend rather than create.

It’s a stark reality that the team has never played a competitive match together, which is something of a high-wire act particularly with a new goalkeeper and full-back line – admittedly the sector that caused problems for the team last year last year.

The suspicion persists, given the contrasting levels at which the counties have been performing in recent years, that Galway need to be coming into this with a developing consistency and momentum, neither of which are detectable.

New management

Then again it’s not as if Mayo are proceeding inexorably either. Under new management and trying to adapt to a new style of play, they have been pestered with injuries during the league and unable to road-test the new approach to a satisfactory extent.

Injuries remain an issue with doubts over the participation of Diarmuid O'Connor, key figure in the U-21 All-Ireland success and arguably the county's best performer during the league, Séamus O'Shea and Conor Loftus, another U-21 with treasured potential to improve the attack.

Further to this Cillian O’Connor has had little football since returning towards the end of the league and then getting black-carded after six minutes of his championship starting in London.

Stephen Rochford has worked hard to get the team to stop thinking so laterally and move forward in a more direct fashion.

As well as improving the attack, the new emphasis is also seen as a necessity in that the hard-running, short game may no longer be even sustainable in the long term never mind that it has been successfully figured out albeit eventually in the last three All-Ireland races.

Kevin Walsh has been trying to make Galway a more resilient and adaptable unit with more than a nod to the modern trend of defensive football but can they be sufficiently practised and up to speed in what is their first outing of the championship against an experienced collective that has been among the top teams of the past five years.

It’s a big year for Mayo, who have only one place to go if it is to be deemed a success.

That remains to be seen but the journey won’t be interrupted this weekend.

Last meeting: 2015 Connacht semi-final, Pearse Stadium, Mayo 1-15, Galway 2-8.

Odds: Mayo 2/9, Galway 4/1 and 11/1 the draw.

Just the ticket: Covered Stand, €25, sideline seating €20 (concessions available for students, senior citizens and families) and under-16s €5.

MAYO: R Hennelly; B Harrison, K Keane, K Higgins; L Keegan, C Boyle, P Durcan; T Parsons, J Gibbons; K McLoughlin, A O'Shea, J Doherty; E Regan, C O'Connor (captain), C O'Shea.

GALWAY: TBA

Referee: Conor Lane (Cork)

Verdict: Mayo