Stephen Rochford: Mayo braced for physical Galway challenge
‘Galway have laid down a marker again, not just with us but throughout the league’
Tempers flare during Galway’s league win over Mayo in February. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho
At the launch of the Connacht championship last week both managers claimed the other was the ‘second best team in Ireland’ as they sought to move themselves down the pecking order behind three-in-a-row winners Dublin, and Rochford thinks their ever improving neighbours will present a massive test of his side this weekend.
The teams met in a fractious national league tie in Pearse Stadium earlier this year, which saw Mayo captain Cillian O’Connor and his brother Diarmuid sent-off along with Galway’s Paul Conroy, and Rochford noted that Galway win - and their consecutive Championship victories over last year’s All-Ireland runners-up.
“We were well in the game until we conceded an unnecessary goal. Looking back on it and we had three or four mistakes, one compounding the other that created enough of a margin for Galway to impose their game plan,” said Rochford.
“Galway have really laid down a marker again, not just with us but throughout the league.
“So I expect a tough, physical, proper Connacht Championship game, with very little of a margin in it in the end.
“I know that there’s been maybe a little bit more made of it than necessary, but they have a lot of big, physical guys, but I don’t see them being a particularly dirty team to be honest, or anything like that.”
The teams had very contrasting league campaigns. Galway sailed through their seven games unbeaten before they were finally toppled by Dublin in the league final, while Mayo needed a late Kevin McLoughlin score to claim the draw they needed to survive in Ballybofey.
According to Rochford, no one expected Galway to go on that kind of an early season run on their return to Division One.
“If anybody was looking at trying to outline what was going to happen in the league from the middle of January, if somebody was to say one team was going to go unbeaten in the league, I don’t think anybody was going to pick that it was going to be Galway. We probably all would have said that it was going to be Dublin.
“So they’ve obviously moved on well from the 2016 team that beat us, and the 2017 team that beat us.
“There’s no way you can (be) Connacht champions and then Division Two champions, and then make a national league final and go unbeaten, having sustained the same level.
“On current form they’re the second best team in the country, and that really highlights the quality that they have. They have a lot of top footballers and have gone about stating their ambitions for the year, and not just Mayo.”
To date Rochford has not had a good run in the provincial championship with Mayo, with wins over London and Sligo added to each year by defeats to Galway in the semi-finals. Losing back-to-back All-Ireland finals by a point to Dublin were no doubt tough losses to cope with, but he says he has not been kept awake at night by their failures.
“Someone within the management said, ‘It’s not a case of getting over it, you just adjust’,” said Rochford.
“So it’s the same as any instance in life, you get on with it, you go on and you try and learn from it. But, you know, (I’m) not having particularly sleepless nights about that more than the game coming up, just knowing that we prepared well, we played well but we didn’t play as well as we had aspired to in that final.
“But in that, that’s the potential that I still see in the group...I genuinely believe there is things in that game that we know we can do better on and that is the bigger motivation to come back.
“I think it is too simplistic to bring it down to one thing. It is like a jigsaw, I use this analogy. There is 1,000 pieces on the jigsaw and from the distance it looks perfect, but when you get really up close you can see that this was a little bit off or that needs to be a little bit better.
“Not massive things, not big under performance from any one person or one incident. Just a number of different bits that need to be put together. To me that is just a measure of the potential within the group.”