WHEN Padraic Joyce was interviewed on Radio 1 after their final regulation league game against Kerry last Sunday, which effectively doubled up as a league semi-final, Joyce was asked about Mayo’s request – which they had submitted earlier in the week - to play the league final 24 hours earlier.
Joyce gave a straight and firm answer as to what he thought of the request to play the match on Saturday.
“We’ll be in Croke Park next Sunday,” he said.
Aside from the local history and rivalry between the counties, and Galway’s clear desire to win a first National League title in 42 years, it was understandable why Galway would not even entertain Mayo’s submission for a Saturday throw-in.
Galway had just played a hard, tough, mentally and physically draining game and had no reason to agree to having one day less to prepare for a final, especially when Mayo had just played against Monaghan without many of their first-choice players in a game that didn’t mean a whole lot because they’d already qualified for the final.
Galway have all the aces up their sleeve because they don’t play their Connacht semi-final until April 23, whereas Mayo begin their provincial championship seven days after the league final with a Connacht quarter-final against Roscommon.
Mayo had three weeks to prepare for their opening championship match against Galway after last year’s league final but Mayo still looked completely disinterested and got annihilated by Kerry in the league decider.
Seven days is too short. At least Sligo and Wicklow have an extra day’s preparation with the Division 4 final taking place on Saturday before both counties also begin their championship campaigns next weekend.
In any case, the timeframe between the league finals and the opening rounds of the championship is too tight, full stop. With all eight teams in Division 4 starting their championship next weekend, there was always a chance that the Division 1, 2 and 3 finals would not contain a team playing championship the following weekend.
But that was still less of a 1 in 3 chance as nine of the 24 teams in the top three divisions are out next weekend. And Mayo just happen to be one of them.
This didn’t need to happen. Last year, the Central Competitions Controls Committee (CCCC) sent a proposal to Central Council calling to scrap the league finals as a means of creating a two-week gap between the competition and the start of the provincial championships.
However, a number of counties as well as the Gaelic Players Association (GPA) expressed their opposition to their recommendation and it was defeated at the September meeting of Central Council.
It was inevitable that some counties would be caught in a bind but that’s also the luck of the draw. If Kerry had beaten Galway last weekend, they’d have reached a league final three weeks before they also play championship on April 23.
Jack O’Connor has always gone after league titles but Kerry looked so laboured at stages of the campaign that they’re probably happy with the four-week break, especially when they’re going on a training camp to Portugal next week, a luxury not every county is afforded with the timeframe being too tight after the league.
With all teams in Division 1 guaranteed to compete in the Sam Maguire – unlike in Division 2 – nobody was fully sure how every team would take the league in comparison to other seasons.
Especially with so many more games now in the championship.
Having had such a long layoff since last summer asked further questions as to how up-to-speed teams would be by January and early February. Yet the ferocity of the Galway-Mayo game on the opening night answered a lot of those early questions.
Galway and Mayo were never likely to hold back but a big talking point afterwards was whether or not that same level of intensity would be on display across Division 1 throughout the league.
The feeling at the time was that it was improbable and unlikely, which is largely how it played out.
Prior to the final round last weekend, much of the football played was defined by ultra-defensive tactics and counter-attacking.
That’s certainly not anything new but it was even more surprising considering how football had gone more attack orientated in recent years. And particularly when the threat of relegation in Division 1 wasn’t as damaging as relegation in Division 2.
By the middle of the league, every team had long accepted that some of that ferocity and intensity evident early on was unsustainable. On the other hand, nobody could really back off either because of the complexity of the potential relegation battle.
Before Round 5, there were still only three points between the 1st and 7th placed teams, with just one point between 3rd and 7th, and two points between 3rd and 8th.
Everyone had their eye on the championship but every team in Division 1 wanted to make sure they stayed there, which probably contributed to the amount of cautious defensive football played throughout the campaign.
Now that Galway and Mayo have reached the final, both sides will go hell for leather.
A Galway-Mayo clash couldn’t be any other way given the local rivalry and historical enmity.
Yet it’s still hard to know how hard Mayo can really go either with Roscommon coming down the tracks seven days later.