Yesterday, both James Horan and Jim Gavin ambled into the designated room with their cards held wedged to their chest and only once was there a mention of the fact that what had just been witnessed was the semi-final of a national competition and that came in the form of a question rather than an answer.
For Horan, there was no teary lament, none of the August anguish we witness so regularly from players and managers whose sides have just fallen one hurdle short of a place in the All-Ireland final. This was about lessons learned, not so much a prized fixture as a valuable educational tool.
A mock exam, if you like. Cola lite.
“Of course you want to be playing in Croker, we were happy to get the game today,” said the Ballintubber man. “Sometimes when you get beaten, it is easy to say something or to go in a different direction, but we are happy to be here, to be playing, and we learned a huge amount, an absolute huge amount about some of our players.”
Maybe Horan is right to gloss over the benefits of a league final. After all, Mayo have been in four of them this century — they’ve even won one of them — and none of those experiences steeled them sufficiently for that elusive All-Ireland title.
They came to Dublin yesterday minus eight players, the likes of Andy Moran, Alan Dillon and Barry Moran among them — and mined enough from the rock face despite their failure to scale the summit to work on this next month or so.
“Fitness-wise they had the run on us today,” he said of Dublin. “They’re in good shape, they’ve a full crew. Alan Brogan’s maybe the only one they don’t have to pick from so things are going well for them, and that happens when you’re going well.
“Momentum builds and everything seems to go their way and they’re taking it, in fairness to them, so as regards how things go later on in the year there’s so many teams that are so close. It’s wide open, which is a great way for it to be.”
Mayo could well be one of those sides to emerge from the pack as the summer approaches its final bend and their exertions this spring will help steel them for the gallop that is a an All-Ireland campaign if Horan is anything to go by.
“We were consistent without being at a high level, I suppose. Our league campaign two years ago we were up and down in games. Last year was a bit like that. Even though we got beaten in a few games [this year] we kept working on what we’re trying to work on.
“We didn’t lose by much in any games. We were consistent so that consistency is a good thing to build things on. From that side, I’d be happy. There’s a few guys that are starting to show very well. Cathal Carolan is new this year, Cillian [O’Connor] is back to form so there’s quite a few things.”