Perhaps that’s why James Horan was so frustrated and, frankly, disgusted by the actions of his team during a dramatic come-from-behind victory in Mullingar.
Leading by nine points after just 10 minutes and playing a Westmeath team that had lost its previous three games, Mayo looked all set to record to a double digit victory margin.
But half an hour later the back-to-back All-Ireland finalists looked utterly flummoxed and at odds with themselves as they trailed by two points. It represented an 11-point swing and while Mayo would eventually steady the ship and pick up the win they came for, manager Horan left a perplexed man.
He acknowledged the win keeps them in the hunt for a knockout place in the Allianz League. But of far more consequence, in his opinion, was the worrying shutdown in the second quarter of the game which they almost paid a high price for. Horan fumed: “We started off very well and then after 15 minutes we went showboating. Just dropped our standards and thought we could do what we wanted.
“You can see what happens against any team you’re playing in this division if you drop your standards, what happened to us will happen to you. So we were down at half-time and deservedly so.”
A second-half scoring blitz of nine-points in a row, including one from Cillian O’Connor after his return from shoulder surgery, bailed Mayo’s defenders out.
Horan continued: “We’re very open and every time a team attacks against us it could be a goal. We’ve been like that in every game. We’re doing plenty of good things in games and attacking well at times but we’re just way too open and way too naive in what we’re doing.
“If we played like that against Cork or someone, we’d concede 3- or 4-20, more, easily. That’s obviously going to be a big focus for us during the week.”
The great irony is that many believe Mayo’s forwards are their Achilles heel which will prevent them from winning the All-Ireland title they crave, not their defenders.
Their backs won three of the six outfield All Star awards for defenders last year, despite losing the All-Ireland final. Asked if something has changed to lead to their poor defensive form, Horan shook his head.
“No, not dramatically. We just need to maybe be more aware of where players are on the field. We’re good defenders, we’re just not defending well at the moment. I have no doubt we’ll rectify that.”
Horan’s frank assessment failed to account for Westmeath’s excellent movement at times with the Dolan cousins, Des and James weaving some sumptuous moves. Des fed James for his first goal after 32 minutes following a pin-point diagonal ball from captain Paul Sharry. It was easily the move of the game and following Kieran Martin’s earlier fisted finish to the net, it levelled the game at 2-7 apiece.
That was scarcely believable after Mayo had taken a 2-4 to 0-1 lead in the opening 10 minutes. But Lee Keegan’s early goal and another from Michael Sweeney seemed like old memories by the time half-time came around and Mayo trailed by one.
Westmeath fans in the 6,600 strong crowd on a damp afternoon were up and out of their seats after the restart when their side moved two ahead. Brendan Harrison fouled James Dolan and John Heslin converted his fifth free of the game to put Westmeath 2-9 to 2-7 ahead.
As it happened, it was the high point of their afternoon because they didn’t score again until Dolan’s second goal in the 71st minute. In fact, they didn’t score a single point from play in the entire second-half as Mayo came roaring back into the contest. Of their nine points that came without reply, three of them came from substitutes — O’Connor, Brian Gallagher and David Drake — while Gallagher added a fourth in injury-time.
O’Connor received a huge roar when he entered the fray having underwent shoulder surgery after last year’s All-Ireland final defeat to Dublin.
Horan said: “He hit a fabulous free at an important time for us. He’s got a bit of conditioning to do but Cillian will gain match fitness very quickly. It’s a great boost to have him back.”
Scorers for Mayo: L Keegan (1-2), A Freeman (0-5, 3fs), M Sweeney (1-0), K McLoughlin (0-3, 1f), A O’Shea and B Gallagher (0-2 each), E Varley, D Drake and C O’Connor (f) (0-1 each).
Scorers for Westmeath: J Dolan (2-2), J Heslin (0-5fs), K Martin (1-1), Des Dolan (0-1).
MAYO: R Hennelly; K Keane, B Harrison, G Cafferkey; L Keegan, D Vaughan, C Boyle; A O’Shea, J Gibbons; K Higgins, K McLoughlin, J Doherty; E Varley, A Freeman, M Sweeney.
Subs for Mayo: D Drake for Keane (ht), C O’Connor for Varley (45), S O’Shea for Gibbons (52), M Conroy for Sweeney (57), B Gallagher for Doherty (60), C Carolan for Higgins (67).
WESTMEATH: D Quinn; S Gilmore, K Gavin, K Maguire; P Sharry, J Gilligan, J Gonoud; D Duffy, J Heslin; K Martin, G Egan, D Harte; D Glennon, J Dolan, Des Dolan.
Subs for Westmeath: D McCormack for Harte (49), G Hoey for Glennon (53), D Corroon for Duffy (60).
Referee: E Kinsella (Laois).