Lonesharkoy previews some of this weekend's GAA ties and identifies three selections of potential interest.
A healthy smattering of championship heavyweights enter the fray this week, including the All Ireland hurling champions, the National Hurling league winners and two old Connacht rivals that are expected to go deep into this year’s championship. We’ll start our previews for the week with that clash in Castlebar, undoubtedly the most tantalising first round tie that we know we’re going to see this summer.
Mayo vs Galway
For the last two years in a row, Galway have ambushed Mayo, but the day of Galway emerging out of the long grass is long gone. Two strong performances against Dublin in the league have demonstrated that they are now part of that select group that can realistically aspire to swoop in and take advantage of any slip up on the part of the All Ireland champions later this year. In Damien Comer they have a forward who is simply unplayable when he’s on form, while unlike the Kerrys, Mayos and Tyrones of this world, they won’t approach the summer with the psychological baggage of having endured heartbreak and torture at the hands of Jim Gavin’s men. They have earned their place at the top table, but done so without sustaining any mortal wounds on the way up.
All that said, thoughts of Sam Maguire are a world away now. The league game between these two counties gave us some indication of the animosity that is bubbling up between these two counties, and this date has been marked on the calendar for both sides from a long way out. Whether Galway will have enough fuel in the tank to carry on to the end of the summer after putting so much into the league remains to be seen, but they will be primed for this right now, while we shouldn’t forget that when it comes to championship, Mayo are still the second-best team in Ireland by some margin.
This will be tight, it will be tense, and scores will not come easy. Galway’s last three games all finished goal-less – so 11/2 about the same thing happening again has to be considered the bet of the week.
Offaly vs Galway
Events and results of the past four months have ensured that whatever else happens tomorrow evening in Bord na Móna O’Connor Park, a repeat of last year’s 0-33 to 1-11 defeat is almost certainly off the table. Regardless of whatever the difference in ability might be between the hosts and the All-Ireland champions, a defeat of that magnitude tends only to happen when the losing side is in a bad place mentally, riddled with cracks that can be easily prised open when pressure is applied.
Right from the start of his reign, Kevin Martin has set about imbuing this team with a far more robust sense of self-belief and while the scars of previous seasons may yet rupture if one of the country’s top sides gets a run going, the evidence we’ve seen so far is that group won’t be rolled over easily.
It’s also true to say that while Galway are clearly in a very different place to Offaly right now, the home team do match up with the Tribesmen quite well, in that Kevin Martin has a big, powerful side that should be suited to competing with a Galway team that likes to play a simple game based around their size and skill advantage in a large number of the outfield individual battles.
Whether it’s Joseph Cooney, Conor Cooney, Jason Flynn or Joe Canning, Galway tend to back their forwards to win their own ball and to take scores without support, rather than carrying the ball in the style of a team like Wexford or Waterford. In the case of most of the Offaly backs, they’ll be happy to hurl on those terms, as they too are comfortable competing for possession and taking on a single opponent for ball after ball.
Neither are Galway built to rack up a huge total, in that they still don’t score a lot of goals. This was a widely heralded flaw of theirs in 2017, while seven green flags in six league starts would suggest that they haven’t made any huge strides in addressing those issues so far. Because of this, and because there will be a large home crowd in Tullamore that will be riled up for the game, inspiring Offaly to play their best hurling in the early exchanges, the Faithful County scoring the first goal of the game looks like a decent play.
Wicklow vs Mayo
This is one of those games where our selection has been entirely dictated by the prices on offer. These two sides met in Ballina in the league, where Mayo won by 1-22 to 2-16. That victory was perhaps the most important result for the Connacht county in their successful campaign, and they will now hurl in Division 2A next year.
However this week’s game will be played in Aughrim, Mikey Lee will be back in action for Wicklow after missing out on the league, while Keith Higgins returns to the Mayo senior football line up, and so will be a huge miss for Mayo after he played a significant role in the full forward line for Derek Walsh’s side in the Spring. All of that would suggest that Wicklow deserve to be the favourites this week.
But 1/3 favourites, as priced up by Boylesports? That’s definitely taking things too far. There’s no doubt that Higgins is a huge player for this team, but overall, Mayo hurling is in a very decent place. Tooreen’s win in the Connacht Intermediate Club championship six months ago represented a huge step forward for the county as a whole, and there are a lot of decent, fit, mobile and skilful players in this Mayo team. In a wide open Christy Ring Cup where at least six of the eight counties involved will feel that they have a good chance of winning silverware, Mayo are arguably as well placed as any of the others. They have positive momentum on their side after enjoying a great Spring, unlike any of the other teams, and when you have a solid freetaker – and Kenny Feeney is up there with the best of them – you’ll stay in touch in games at this level. The general line is 4/7 Wicklow vs 13/8 Mayo, and even at that, we’d be tempted to say that there would be the slightest touch of value in a bet on the outsiders. At 5/2, it’s an easy call.