Long serving Mayo defender Keith Higgins believes the truth about their Allianz league campaign lies somewhere between the boom and bust scenarios that were painted.
The westerners rose to the occasion on final day to beat Kerry though veteran Higgins said the one-off Croke Park game felt almost divorced from the main competition.
In that regular group campaign, Mayo won their first three games, beating Roscommon, Tyrone and Cavan before losing to Dublin and Galway, two teams their Championship campaign will inevitably revolve around.
“You’d nearly look on the league campaign itself as being separate from the final,” said Higgins. “The league was probably up and down a bit.
“I suppose after the first three games, people were saying ‘We’re back’. Then in the next two games it was, ‘We’re done’. So I think we’re probably somewhere in the middle of all that. But winning the final should be another step along the way.”
Keith Higgins GOALS for Mayo pic.twitter.com/VCFLKw8l7N— The GAA (@officialgaa) February 3, 2019
Aside from claiming a first piece of national silverware in 18 years following nine final defeats — six All-Ireland finals and three league deciders - Mayo also used 34 different players.
That was almost the highest level of experimentation in Division 1, second only to Dublin who used 37 players while Cavan used 32, Kerry and Tyrone 31, Galway 30 and Monaghan and Roscommon 27.
Compared to Kerry, who had six players that started all eight of their games, Aidan O’Shea and Jason Doherty were the only Mayo players that lined out each day.
Boss James Horan chose instead to assess all his options with Conor Diskin, Fionn McDonagh, James McCormack, Ciaran Treacy, Matthew Ruane, Darren Coen and James Carr all starting at least a game each.
“Bar maybe the likes of Diarmuid O’Connor and Stevie Coen, we probably haven’t had a huge amount of players coming in in the last couple of years,” said Higgins.
So to get three or four lads like that, who are real contenders to start now, it has to give us a boost. To see them doing so well on the big stage as well was great, when we needed them to do well.
Midfielder Ruane started Mayo’s last six games in the campaign, returning 2-4 and firing 1-1 tallies in each of their games against Kerry.
“His goal against Kerry in the final was nearly a carbon copy of his one in Tralee, he cut in from the same wing and finished it in the same corner,” said Higgins. “In fairness to Mattie, he has stepped up in the last three or four games. He has a great engine, he’ll go all day long.”