Mayo have tasted defeat in the Connacht Championship again.
For the third successive year, Stephen Rochford’s side have come out on the losing end against Galway.
Galway prevailed by 1-12 to 0-12 in Castlebar after Johnny Heaney’s stoppage time goal, and have now won their last four clashes against their provincial rivals.
The Tribesmen have proved to be Rochford’s Achilles heel; the Mayo manager has yet to record a victory over the county since his appointment.
It was a disappointing game which was mostly devoid of quality, Mayo were reduced to 14 men in the 29th minute after Diarmuid O’Connor received a straight red for an elbow on Paul Conroy. Last year’s All-Ireland finalists also lost Tom Parsons to a serious injury, with Rochford confirming afterwards that the influential midfielder had dislocated his knee.
Kevin Walsh’s side led by a single point at half time – 0-7 to 0-6 – having had the benefit of the wind, but had the advantage of an extra man for the second half at MacHale Park.
Despite the numerical advantage, there was little to separate the teams in what was a defensive game until Heaney’s late goal. In fact, Mayo – who ‘parked the bus’ – had outscored the Division One finalists (0-5 to 0-4) up until the incisive goal.
Mayo did have time for one more point through Cillian O’Connor after Heaney’s goal, but Tom Flynn restored Galway’s three point lead with a fisted score in the dying seconds.
Galway had not beaten Mayo three times in a row in Connacht since the early 1980’s, and yesterday’s result is further proof of Galway’s continued improvement in recent years. The two local rivals are also now locked on 41 Championship head-to-head victories apiece.
Kevin Walsh’s side will be heavy favourites against Sligo in the Connacht semi-final, and could face Roscommon – who stunned them in last year’s Connacht final – in the provincial decider in a repeat of last year’s final.
Mayo, on the other hand, face a tough road through the qualifiers.
If they are to reach their third consecutive All-Ireland final, it will require another Herculean effort.
They have managed to reach the final on their last two attempts despite suffering defeat in Connacht, but there is a feeling that this year will pose the most difficult test yet.
“Without Lee Keegan it’s such a marked difference; the ability for them to translate from defence to attack,” Joe Brolly said after yesterday’s defeat.
“You wouldn’t fancy them to come in to the Super 8s to be playing against teams like Donegal, Tyrone… you just wouldn’t fancy them. You feel somehow like it’s all in the past.”
Parsons will also be a substantial loss, as will the suspended Diarmuid O’Connor. Andy Moran (34), Keith Higgins (33), Colm Boyle (31) are reaching the twilight of their careers, and Cillian O’Connor has also had injury issues.
O’Connor aside, Mayo’s substitutes had little impact on the game after their introduction. Galway – on the other hand – benefited greatly by throwing Seán Kelly, Eamonn Brannigan and Ian Burke into the mix from the bench.
Worryingly, Mayo are also yet to win a competitive fixture at home in 2018. This poor home form will be a major concern ahead of the qualifiers to come.
Colm O’Rourke, like Brolly, thinks it will be too much for the Connacht county.
“With Tom Parsons injured and Cillian O’Connor a question mark, Diarmuid O’Connor now out for the next match… Mayo are probably in terminal decline at this stage.”
To reach the Super 8s, Mayo will have to win four qualifiers in five weeks. To reach the final, it will take seven games in just nine weeks.
Overall, it would take 10 wins to achieve All-Ireland glory.
Reaching this year’s decider is a daunting prospect, but only a fool would write Mayo off given their recent history.
Questions will be asked about Mayo in the coming weeks and months, but they have been down this road before.
While their form is somewhat worrying, they have the necessary experience and quality to negotiate the tricky qualifying rounds.