In the previous four seasons, we learned so much about this group. Yet questions remain and new ones have formed.
Here are the 10 most pressing uncertainties about them:
If Holmes has the ice then Connelly brings the fire. Known for his rousing dressing room addresses, players have no doubts about his passion. But we’re talking about a Mayo panel who by this stage are arguably the most self-motivated group in the country.
Holmes and Connelly haven’t been through the ringer with this crew. As manager, James Horan divorced himself from the county’s history of self-pity. The current management may insist they yearn for an All-Ireland just as bad but didn’t break rocks with the players.
Last November, Holmes outlined how they planned to bring in 20 players who had impressed at minor and club level, putting them on strength and conditioning programmes. He explained in the past they would be brought in for December and January and with no football played and no physical work done look off the pace and be dropped.
He added of their plan: “We would be optimistic at this moment we will get a number of players out of that.” For Saturday, Mayo have named 13 of the outfield team that began against Kerry in the Gaelic Grounds 12 months ago. The two alterations, Diarmuid O’Connor and Tom Parsons, weren’t discovered last winter.
It mightn’t have been pretty but against Galway they killed the clock on the hosts in the closing stages with what could only be described as clinical cynicism. Clearly, there have been learnings gleaned from their 2014 championship exit to Kerry.
Rory Gallagher must have had a wry smile reading yesterday when Holmes called for the same protection for Aidan O’Shea as he did for Michael Murphy earlier this year.
Working with Ballaghaderreen this year, former Sligo player Eamonn O’Hara said he’d heard all the whispers about O’Shea being next to unmarkable in the training prior to the Connacht final.
Putting a relatively inexperienced defender on O’Shea wasn’t one of Niall Carew’s wisest moves. As he showed against Murphy, Finian Hanley struggles against physical full-forward. Neil McGee will provide a much sterner test. Pass that and we can hail O’Shea’s switch as a veritable triumph.
We return to Connelly and Holmes’ joint interview last November where Holmes gave some insight into the pair’s dynamic as underage co- managers. “I don’t believe we ever had a cross word in our four years together or a disagreement, we’d discussions alright but never a disagreement.”
Holmes was hardly trying to suggest everything is cosey but on the surface it sounds a lot like Mickey Moran and John Morrison’s work arrangement. They too were different characters who shared common ground but it ultimately didn’t work for them.
Horan nor the Mayo players last year never publicly made a big deal of Cormac Reilly’s performance in Limerick last August (it wasn’t as if we in the press didn’t give them the chance to vent their spleens!).
Kevin McLoughlin says he always looks back on games shortly after playing them. Reviewing that game must have filled him with rage. For his and his team-mate’s sake, you would hope they can harness the sense of injustice without it consuming them as it clearly has done sections of their supporters. Otherwise, 2014 will simply be another 1996.
But for injury, Kevin Keane may well be reacquainting himself with Murphy. At the same time, Donie Vaughan’s form has been that good since coming on against Galway that Connelly and Holmes will have found it difficult to push him out again.
The sextet, named to start this All-Ireland quarter-final, started the Connacht final as they did last year’s All-Ireland semi-final replay. Kerry managed to clog up the centre of their back-line against Cork in the replay and Kildare but of all four provincial champions Mayo haven’t yet got the hang of conceding goals.
Barry Solan’s imminent move to Arsenal has shown Mayo have been operating best practice in the area of strength and conditioning this year. So too have they one of the country’s best coaches in Buckley and he is enjoying an expanded brief this season.
Highly regarded by the players, Mayo have made an art-form of the full court press thanks to the Castleisland man. Part of the reason why Mayo have not fully subscribed to the sweeper has been the work Buckley has done with players in instilling trust in their own individual skills. Where most see grey in the tackle, he regards as black and white.
Rank the six remaining teams in terms of battle-hardiness and they would read in descending order - Donegal, Kerry, Monaghan, Tyrone, Mayo, Dublin. Just as much as Dublin, Mayo have to face charges of being undercooked. They have answered this question before but not under Connelly and Holmes.
What’s more, their subs have hardly been blooded. Vaughan, who now starts, was their best replacement against Galway. Alan Dillon remains the ace in reserve. Barry Moran and Alan Freeman have much to offer but they haven’t yet had to come to the rescue.
A query we have put to you before. There is the odd Kerry columnist here and there who writes in green and gold font. Darragh Ó Sé, in his comments about Diarmuid Connolly and Dublin’s attitude towards the Fermanagh game, comes to mind. The same goes for Dublin.
As we’ve written before, when a team from the northern province inches closer or reaches a final, watch Team Ulster mobilise. But do all those past Mayo players in the media want to see their team succeed? If they do, it’s not apparent.