Mayo 4-19 Roscommon 0-9: And then there were four. Not three, mind, but four.
Suggestions that Mayo had taken their leave of football’s top table had solidified into hardened fact after their unimpressive stalemate with Roscommon last Sunday week, so it was just like them to take a pick to the foundations of those opinions and turn them into rubble.
The Big Three rebranded as the Big Four, then, and all on the back of… we were going to say 70 minutes but this was a narrative reimagined inside half an hour.
Mayo led by 3-6 to 0-2 at that stage, their supremacy created by a reinvigorated, direct running game and the tactical straitjacket they imposed on the Connacht champions.
So much for this being a tired and old team.
The Croke Park turf is a vast expanse of land — try taking it in from ground level some day — but Kevin McStay’s side found themselves squeezed into the inside curve of the shoehorned stadium underneath the Davin Stand for the entire first half.
Trapped down a dead end and devoid of air or hope.
Mayo pushed up boldly and aggressively on the Roscommon kickouts, drawn to opponents like buzzards to a bloodied hide, and they lorded it over the Roscommon midfield when goalkeeper Colm Lavin took the battle to the skies.
Everything stemmed from the panic that ensued.
Points and goals flowed from the incessant pressure but more damage was done by the waves of attacks launched from all angles and by all personnel. Moribund for much of the summer, this was a life-affirming display for Mayo’s All-Ireland ambitions.
The reward: a seventh straight appearance in an All-Ireland semi-final.
The talking points began totting up long before throw-in with Lee Keegan replaced in midfield by Tom Parsons due to an illness that saw him hospitalised earlier in the week while Donal Vaughan slipped in at full-back for Ger Cafferkey.
Keegan was named on the bench but wasn’t needed.
Roscommon brought news of their own, Caoileann Fitzmaurice stepping up for his first senior game of football for his county, FBD League included. He came in for Fintan Cregg while Cathal Compton relieved Ciaran Murtagh of his starting duties.
Plenty of potential for headlines there, or so we thought at the time.
Keegan’s absence was especially notable given the job he did in the drawn game when moved to midfield where he negated the influence of Enda Smith. Stephen Rochford simply delegated the same duties to Donal Vaughan.
The Ballinrobe man didn’t manage 1-3 from play but Smith was again a peripheral figure and the moment eight minutes in when Vaughan beat his man to a high ball and proceeded upfield to take a pass and tap over the third point seemed significant at the time.
In the end, there would be others with greater claims to the honour of the day’s best.
None more than Aidan O’Shea who has found form the further the championship’s roots have extended into the summer. O’Shea claimed two points, was fouled for three more Cillian O’Connor’s frees and was irresistible at times going forward.
So too the likes of Keith Higgins. It was the metronomic corner-back who claimed the last of three first-half goals — with O’Shea acting as a decoy to his run — after Kevin McLoughlin and Andy Moran had already found the net. Six minutes separated the three green flags.
The timing could hardly have been more deflating for the Rossies.
Having conceded five points on the trot in the first quarter, Kevin McStay’s side appeared to have steadied their nerves with a pair of points from Smith and Sean Mullooly, but then came the barrage and the game was all but over.
If there was any hope at half-time, as they surveyed the wreckage and a 13-point deficit, it would have come in the knowledge that Mayo had played fast and loose with dominant positions in this year’s qualifiers but they stood sentry against any such profligacy this time.
The fourth goal was recorded by the 46th minute with Cillian O’Connor’s low finish to the net confirming the presence on the scoresheet of all six starting forwards from open play. By the end, 13 of Stephen Rochford’s lads would contribute in just that manner.
It’s a performance that will be inevitably coloured by the chasm of points between them at the finish but the worth of this latest in a long line of outings to Mayo can’t be overstated with fringe players also availing of a good stretch of leg time before the end.
David Drake, in particular, was superb at times when introduced.
The comparisons with 2016, a year that only ended in October with an agonising loss to Dublin in the All-Ireland final replay, are obvious. Mayo had six games banked last summer before they found their form. This, too, was a case of a magnificent seventh.
Make room. Mayo will surely give us much more to digest.
Scorers for Mayo:
C O’Connor (1-6, 0-5 frees); A Moran (1-1); K Higgins and K McLoughlin (both 1-0); A O’Shea, J Doherty and S Nally (all 0-2); D Vaughan, C Barrett, T Parsons, D O’Connor, D Drake, S Coen (all 0-1).
Scorers for Roscommon:
D Murtagh (0-4, 0-2 frees); S Mullooly, E Smith, C Devaney, N Kilroy and D Smith (all 0-1).
D Clarke; B Harrison, D Vaughan, K Higgins; C Boyle, C Barrett, P Durcan; T Parsons, A O’Shea; K McLoughlin, S O’Shea, D O’Connor; J Doherty, C O’Connor, A Moran.
D Drake for Barrett (10-17) and for McLoughlin (55); C Loftus for Doherty (46); S Coen for Vaughan and A Dillon for Moran (both 60); D Kirby for A O’Shea (62); S Nally for Barrett (66).
C Lavin; S McDermott, N McInerney, D Murray; J McManus, S Mullooly, B Stack; T O’Rourke, E Smith; C Fitzmaurice, N Kilroy, C Devaney; Cathal Compton, D Murtagh, C Connolly.
G Patterson for McDermott, F Cregg for Connolly and C Murtagh for Cathal Compton (all HT); D Smith for Stack (47); I Kilbride for Devaney (60); Colin Compton for Smith (63).
A Nolan (Wicklow).
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