BIG MATCH VERDICT: Mayo need a very disciplined approach to sink rivals

ON Sunday, Elverys MacHale Park launches 'the big one’ in Connaught. Few derbies rival it. Galway v Mayo clashes are renowned for tension, passion and unpredictability, but when each are seen as among the likeliest to relieve Dublin of their crown this gives the occasion an added edge, writes MARTIN CARNEY.

Little separates the teams in my estimation.

Whereas Mayo have a clear advantage by way of experience, we have seen in recent months compelling evidence that Galway are a coming force and possess quality throughout their team. Their recent league final performance has further flagged their credentials. An excellent record in head-to-heads with Mayo will be a further source of confidence for the Tribesmen.

Galway pose a huge challenge for a team at any stage of its development but in Mayo’s case, long travelled and battle hardened, were they to fail at this hurdle the prospects for a prolonged summer would dip alarmingly.

Selecting the right team and playing guys in areas best suiting the needs of the team are chief among the challenges.

Injuries to key players and a dearth of emerging new talent will limit the choices for selectors.

I am heartened by the encouraging noises regarding the progress being made by Lee Keegan, Brendan Harrison and Cillian O’Connor as they recover from injury but to start any of these would be foolish. Overall, the team will contain few surprises.

Mayo must be sharp, proactive and ready to set the tempo from the first whistle. It is critical that the starting team takes the game to Galway and plays with a mix of aggression, iron discipline and efficiency in front of goal.

I expect that David Clarke will be preferred to Robbie Hennelly between the posts, although I would have no problem were the Breaffy netminder given the nod.

His unmatched range of restarts is an asset, as is his general goalkeeping, but Clarke’s self-assurance, strength under the high ball and shot-stopping will stand to him.

In anticipation that Lee Keegan and Brendan Harrison won’t feature, the way is clear to give Caolan Crowe his first championship start. A solid league campaign saw him grow in confidence and his display against Donegal was particularly impressive.

Patrick Durcan must start at number 5. With an unmatched turn of pace, his attacking surges will be vital in stretching the Galway defence.

Eoin O’Donoghue did enough in the National League to win over the sceptics and he may be handed the left corner-back position. That could well signal Keith Higgins’ demotion to the bench. With his commitment to the hurlers still active, doubts persist about his readiness.

The warrior Colm Boyle will be handed a half-back position, with the probable responsibility of going head-to-head with Shane Walsh.

Stephen Coen has done enough to claim the number 6 jersey and it’s a position that brings the best out in him. Damien Comer and Shane Walsh need close attention. Both are mobile, accurate, aggressive and unpredictable. Comer in particular has become Galway’s talisman; curb his influence and I believe you are well on the way to beating them.

In Chris Barrett, Mayo have a ready-made aggressor who will relish the challenge of confronting Comer. I would give him this assignment, confident that he is up to the task.

Just as Comer is to Galway, Aidan O’Shea’s influence is equally important to Mayo. His absence from the starting 15 in last year’s encounter cost Mayo dearly and he will respond best if he is handed a free role around the middle.

With brother Seamie, Tom Parsons, Diarmuid O’Connor and possibly Donie Vaughan manning the engine room, Mayo have enough to compete with and dismantle whatever Galway bring.

Kevin McLoughlin, Conor Loftus, Andy Moran and Jason Doherty should complete the starting 15. Andy, aside from his boundless enthusiasm, will always give an outlet to his outfield players. His scoring prowess, faculty for winning frees and bringing others into play are what set him apart. Sean Andy Ó Ceallaigh, with his forceful defending will pose problems but Andy’s big match temperament is his biggest asset.

None graft more honourably and honestly than McLoughlin and Doherty. Both averaged between one and two points per game from play over the course of last year’s championship. Were that to improve this summer, the team would be the ultimate beneficiary.

If he is selected much will rest on the shoulders of Conor Loftus. He manned up impressively to the place-kicking demands in the Donegal and Tyrone clashes and I expect he will be tasked with these duties once more in Cillian’s absence. It goes without saying that much depends on Mayo’s starting 15 but an equal and if not a greater contribution will be sought from the replacement players whenever they are called on. Questions have been regularly directed at the contributions, or otherwise, of the Mayo bench in big games and at critical moments. Sometimes people don’t appreciate the difficulty players experience coming off the bench. Issues like not getting on the ball and being slow to get to the pitch of the game are commonplace.

However, a big statement from a substitute at a pivotal moment is one element that would improve the team’s fortunes. Hopefully all who get game time against Galway will leave a big calling card.

All the talk, predictions and signs point to a very aggressive game. Galway are more than capable of mixing fire with skill. Mayo need a very disciplined approach. We have counted the cost in the past of silly moments of petulance and ill-discipline.

Mayo will need to be at their best from the start. An ageing team, with limited options due to injury, must make life as easy for themselves by starting positively and taking the game to Galway.

The sluggish patterns that were too frequent in the early stages of recent championships must be avoided. Mayo are good enough and won’t lack motivation to arrest their recent poor run of form against the Tribesmen.

The foundations for a bountiful summer can fall into place provided Mayo fuse together a display of passion, intelligence, efficiency and iron-clad discipline.