No, we don’t mean the average age of the starting team on Saturday was bordering 29.
In what could be the last ever All-Ireland semi-final replay, Mayo’s second of the championship and their ninth game overall, they looked a slick outfit compared to the one that stumbled to Galway in Connacht for a second successive season and which were almost dumped out of the All-Ireland by Derry, Clare, and Cork.
Mayo have learned while doing, improved while playing. Next year, it will take a team at least seven games to win the Sam Maguire Cup. The stronger teams will reap the benefit of that exposure, as Mayo are doing now.
The omnipresence of Keith Higgins in the drawn game against Kerry was expertly highlighted by Ciaran Whelan and in the replay his example was replicated by several of his team-mates.
Like a relay team, they took turns to
marshal Kieran Donaghy – Donie Vaughan, Aidan O’Shea, Seamus O’Shea — while Chris Barrett was mindful to screen in front of the Austin Stacks man given, the damage he did coming out for ball last Sunday week. Also, David Clarke’s understanding with his defenders for his kick-outs was greater than it had been before.
Like Roscommon and Kerry before them, Mayo’s opponents the next day must play a guessing game.
We pointed out prior to Saturday that Mayo had named the same team for their four previous SFC replays as the one that started in the drawn match only to then make at least one change come the day of the second game.
They chose not to on this occasion, which would suggest they had faith in what they had set about doing in the replay, but it also served as a double-bluff.
Already the questions for September 17 are where does Aidan O’Shea play, where might Lee Keegan end up and can a spot be made for Patrick Durcan? Mayo are limited in terms of personnel but the options they provide are staggeringly strong.
Keegan might be the reigning footballer of the year but it’s safe to say he won’t be retaining that tile this year.
He won’t mind that in the slightest if he’s walking up the steps of the Hogan Stand in 20 days. It seems he’s still not himself since the foot ailment which ruled him out of the Roscommon replay.
Regardless of his loss of form, Mayo are getting by.
Their midfield’s confidence must be sky high after Saturday.
Tom Parsons has been consistent for most of the year and now Seamus O’Shea is looking to be hitting his peak at the right time. Diarmuid O’Connor hadn’t been hitting the heights either but he showed his versatility in the replay when succeeding in the inside line.
It’s reached a stage now where even if they fall short again on the ultimate day, their following will back them to the hilt to come good in 2018.
Of all the pressure on them to finally go and claim an All-Ireland, there is more of it coming from outside than county than in it.
As the MayoGAABlog’s John Gunningan put it on Saturday evening, “We’ve known for a fair while what a special team this is but this year has proven the point beyond doubt.”
With reason, there were doubts Mayo would have the appetite to ascend to an All-Ireland final through the qualifiers for a second year in a row but the willingness of this group to back themselves regardless of the circumstances is beyond measure.