"I think the gap is increasing" - James Horan on Mayo and the strength of the Connacht football championship

The former Mayo boss looks ahead to their semi-final clash with Galway this Saturday at McHale Park

Aidan O'Shea, Mayo

Image: ©INPHO/Gerry McManus

Former Mayo boss James Horan believes the gap between the current Connacht champions and the rest of the province is increasing.

Ahead of their semi-final clash with Galway this Saturday, Horan shared his thoughts on the Stephen Rochford's side and the fading challenge the Tribesmen present in comparison to previous years.

"I know Kevin Walsh mentioned that he thinks his side have been closing the gap, but I’d be the opposite. I think the gap is increasing" he said.

"Galway have lost some very good players as well; Michael Lundy, Johnny Duane and Fiontan Ó Curraoin the U21 All-Ireland winning captain.

"There’s a couple of guys we've seen with Corofin who have a club title and they’re not anywhere near the squad. There’s usually a huge energy around Galway football, where they were going and what the promise was. You don’t sense that anymore.

"You almost sense that the people in Galway think that if they get out of Castlebar with under a ten point beating, six points beaten, that they’ll be happy enough, which is not what Galway used to be. I think it’s lost a bit of that competitiveness." 

Galway travel to McHale Park this weekend and face the daunting prospect of facing a Mayo side featuring fit-again Tom Parsons, Cillian O'Connor and Aidan O'Shea. Their side, meanwhile, will have five Championship debutantes in their starting XV.

"I think Mayo are going to be very strong, I think they’re stronger than last year with the addition of a number of players. Obviously Diarmuid O’Connor has become the player that he is but you’ve also got Evan Regan breaking through, you’ve Stephen Coen who captained the U21 side.

"He’s playing very good football. You’ve got Patrick Durcan back from Castlebar [Mitchels]. These are all young progressive, very dynamic players with proven character. 

"You’ve got five or six new guys who appear to be very ready to jump into senior Championship football. So when you add that to the experience that is already there and the age profile of the guys that are there are very, very good."

Diarmuid O'Connor is likely to feature for Mayo over the Championship campaign. Image: ©INPHO/Donall Farmer  

Despite the patchy league display this year, Mayo appear settled heading into this summer's Championship campaign. Both panels have had fairly lengthy rest periods - Galway's last competitive match was 11 weeks ago - but Horan says that it's Mayo who have made the most of their time off.

"It’s nuts the delay. If the delay was the same for everyone you’d go with that but there are some teams that have played none.

"It can be tough, but I think it might even work to Mayo’s advantage. They didn’t have the team together right up until the end of the season with injury, Castlebar Mitchels [in the club Championships] and the Mayo U21s. They got a lot of them back for the ten week time that they lost.

"They might have utilised that very well, but it mightn’t suit well for other teams. You’re scratching around for decent challenge matches and you mightn’t get them. So if you’re six weeks out from a game and you’ve got no matches, it can be a long time.

"When you’ve a ten week window after the league and you’ve a training camp in England where you can train twice a day, you really get to bed down what you want to do for the summer, and how you want to approach things."

Galway may struggle with the experience in the Mayo ranks and victory for the reigning champions could come down to targeting some of the newer players included in the opposition line-up.

"I'm very surprised you know with the back line. But at the same time, were there any other options there?

"With Johnny Duane and Cathal Sweeney gone, they’re two of their normal back line. Sometimes when you throw in younger players it’s because you want to but as well because you have to. I’d say there’s a bit of mixture in both of those.

"Going in against an experienced outfit like Mayo at home and with two debutantes in your fullback line, that’s going to be gunned after.

"If you were the manager of Mayo, what would you be looking to do there? That will be an area that Mayo will look to target for sure.

You wouldn’t be as concerned further up the field, but that fullback line is going to be under pressure, there’s no question about that."

James Horan is a pundit for Sky Sports who carry exclusive coverage of the Connacht Senior Football Championship meeting of Galway and Mayo this Saturday, on Sky Sports 3. To celebrate the return of the Championship season, Sky customers can upgrade today and enjoy half price Sky Sports for 6 months by simply going to channel 402 and pressing the red button or visit www.sky.ie/sports