On the August Bank Holiday weekend Mayo will have their first real championship battle of the season in the All-Ireland quarter-finals at Croke Park.
There were plenty of questions for the home fans leaving MacHale Park yesterday. Will their side be ready for the challenge at HQ? Can they pick up the intensity and work-rate needed to reach the semi-finals for the third season in-a-row? And the perennial teaser — is it possible for them to go all the way?
They cantered to their third provincial title in-a-row yesterday and while there are still a lot of questions for them, there were no answers forthcoming against a London side totally out of their depth.
4-16 against Galway, 0-21 in the semi-final over Roscommon, and now 5-11 against a Division Four side. You can understand why James Horan is learning more out of their A versus B games.
Winning three championship games by a combined total of 45 points is not ideal grounding for a knockout game against a team that might be on the back of two or three hard-fought wins.
For example, the winners of the Tyrone and Meath game in round four, or perhaps Cork, or Donegal, would present a formidable test for whatever provincial winner gets them.
Yesterday’s final was a bizarre game. It was the polar opposite of what we normally expect championship football to be about. It was more about the sense of occasion and history than a provincial showpiece.
Everybody knew Mayo would win, the only issue was by how much. A good few lads had the hosts backed to cover the 18 point handicap, and that was what held the interest of many when the scoreboard hit 5-11 to 0-8.
Would Mayo push on, or would London hold them there? It is surreal for players to be playing in that kind of an environment.
It is difficult to motivate yourself as a player when the result is a foregone conclusion and it is practically impossible to insulate yourself from loose talk and start looking down the road than focusing totally on the challenge at hand. Such factors, perhaps, was the reason for some sloppy Mayo play. They did not — nor need to — play with anywhere near the intensity or focus they produced when crushing Galway in May, or when they defeated Dublin in last year’s All-Ireland semi-final.
There was a lethargy and lack of real purpose to them against London that Horan will address over the coming days.
Their shooting was wild and ragged at times and Aidan O’Shea was a key culprit with some very poor shots from distance. Young Darren Coen also racked up some poor wides and paid the price at half-time.
Hitting 18 wides is not acceptable. Such profligacy will be punished from here on.
On the positive side, Cillian O’ Connor returned to action with a bang, and 3-3 is some return for 35 minutes of football.
Cillian is a fine player, and he added real penetration and substance to the green and red attack on his arrival.
He will improve and get fitter and Mayo will need to have him at full tilt if they are going to have a real cut off winning the All-Ireland in the coming eight weeks.
Likewise, the game will have brought Andy Moran on too, and while he did not stand out yesterday, he can be a big player for them in the challenges that lie ahead.
Micky Conway also got a short run out too and those guys provide options for Horan for the quarter-finals.
A word on London. They deserve credit for getting past Sligo and Leitrim and guys like Lorcan Mulvey, who shot seven points, captain Seamus Hannon and Stephen Curran tried hard, but they were well out of their depth.
Mayo’s first two goals came from easy turnovers on Shane Mulligan and Damien Dunleavy by Alan Dillon and Keith Higgins and once they hit the net, the game was over.
It was interesting to see Mayo’s Higgins placed at wing-forward for the last quarter and perhaps Horan could use him in a sweeper in two weeks time.
In the final analysis we did not learn too much from this joust, nor could we, as it was such a non-event from a foot-balling perspective. But Mayo need to be far more ruthless, increase their intensity and play with a lot more purpose and pace when the real battle commences in a fortnight.
I think they are well capable of doing so.
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