A preview of the Connacht Football Championship
Last Updated: 15/05/17 7:26pm
The Connacht Football Championship kicked off the All-Ireland SFC last week, with Sligo doing enough to see off the formidable challenge of New York at Gaelic Park in the Bronx last Sunday.
But how do the teams shape up coming into a Championship that will not be decided until July 9?
Kevin Walsh's team come into the Championship on the back of a successful league campaign which saw them promoted as champions to Division 1. Last year the Tribesman secured their first Provincial Crown of the decade. Their squad has been bolstered by the addition of several of their U21s who recently lost out to Dublin in the last ever All Ireland Final at the grade and also by the return of Michael Meehan from a three-year retirement. Galway have been drawn straight into the semi-final stage where they will meet the winners of Mayo and Sligo.
Brendan Guckian's first league campaign at the helm saw his charges finish fifth in Division 4, despite averaging a score of 1-13 a game in the division, which suggests that the area that requires most focus before their trip to Ruislip on May 28 is their defence. When the Londoners travelled to Carrick On Shannon in March, the home side enjoyed a seven-point win. However, seasonal additions to the London team may make things a lot closer in the Championship.
Ciaran Deely remains at the helm of a side who only recorded one victory in Division 4 of the league, albeit an impressive seven-point win away to high-scoring Carlow. Following a recent transfer to Fulham Irish, speculation is rife that Triple Tyrone All Ireland winner Eoin Mulligan will play for the Londoners when they welcome Leitrim to Ruislip on May 28, with a semi-final against Roscommon the prize on offer. It's 40 years this month since London enjoyed their first Connacht Championship win, against Leitrim incidentally, and the Londoners also won their most recent Championship encounter in 2013 in a semi-final replay.
Last year's All Ireland runners up come in on the back of a patchy league campaign as favourites to add a 47th Provincial crown, but they will have to do it the hard way, coming in at the quarter-final stage. First up is a meeting on May 21 in Castlebar against Sligo, with the winners then facing a semi-final in Galway. Stephen Rochford has retained most of last year's panel with the most notable additions being high-profile players returning from injury. There have been losses along the way too, with Kevin Keane having suffered a knee injury in Westport's All Ireland Intermediate Club final victory.
America's only representatives in the Championship must wait yet another year for their maiden victory in the province. Hopes were high this year of a win against Sligo, but having lead for long stages, they were ultimately beaten by seven points. With few meaningful challenge matches and no access to the qualifiers, the New Yorkers may need to look at league participation in the future to afford themselves a fair chance in the Connacht Championship.
This has been something of a winter of discontent for Roscommon. The team that made such an impression in Division 1 of the league last year, now seems a distant memory. In the aftermath of their Connacht Final Replay defeat to Galway and qualifier defeat to Clare, joint manager Fergal O'Donnell stood down as did two of the selectors. Several key players then absented themselves from the squad and it has made it a difficult first season in sole charge for Kevin McStay, his sole league victory coming in the final round against also relegated Cavan. Despite all of that Roscommon look favourites to progress to a second successive provincial final, with their first outing being a semi-final against the winners of London and Leitrim on June 18.
Sligo's reward for a hard fought victory in the Bronx is a semi-final against Mayo, and history would seem to suggest it will be a tough task for the Yeats County. The county's one and only victory in Castlebar was in a replay in 1975 and in the 16 Championship meetings since, they've won just twice on home soil. It took the experience of Mark Breheny, Adrian Marren and David Kelly to see off New York, they'll welcome back students Kevin McDonnell, Luke Nicholson and Gerard O' Kelly-Lynch for the trip to Mayo.
"Mayo were caught cold last year and had the title ripped from them easily. This year they'll want to go to Galway and send a message. They will win the Connacht Championship".
"I expect a Mayo vs Galway semi-final which should be a very close contest with the winners hot favourites to win the final. If the hunger and desire is still in the team, Mayo still have enough quality to win Connacht."
"Mayo will be up for exacting revenge on Galway! Their toughest game could be against Roscommon in the Connacht final but if they want to win it they will."