Eugene Lavin knows relegation, the reality and the fear of it. There was the relegation play-off defeats to Armagh and Kerry 30 years ago. Hazy in his recollection now but it was the loss to Kerry in Ennis that saw them drop from the top flight.
Obviously, he knows Division 2 as well having been there in 1984 to ‘86 and again from ‘88 to ‘91 before the league was restructured.
As the “R” word now looms largest for Mayo in their 20 years in Division 1, the former goalkeeper doesn’t need to be reminded what’s at stake in Ballybofey tomorrow but isn’t perturbed by the drop as some of his fellow ex-county players.
David Brady claims Mayo won’t come “with an ass’ roar” of an All-Ireland should they be demoted tomorrow and has described the game in MacCumhaill Park as the first round of the Championship.
Lavin’s analysis is not as drastic. The Mayo team, he says, requires more than running repairs and a drop wouldn’t be such a bad thing.
“I’d hold up Tyrone as an example of a team that has gone to Division 2 and reinvented themselves. The Tyrone team Mayo faced this year was probably the second one they’ve faced over the last seven years. It’s a redeveloped team that Mickey Harte put together in Division 2.
“Even though he hasn’t won a senior All-Ireland title from Division 2 and many managers haven’t, it wouldn’t be the end of the world for Mayo. Mayo are coming to the end of a very successful era and they’re going to have to redevelop their team and in Division 2 they could do that.
“It’s not easy to get out of it: Meath are showing that at the moment. They were a team that I thought would be at the top of Division 2 at this stage.
"I would well imagine that everyone associated with Mayo would prefer to be in Division 1 because of the profile and the crowds that are supporting Mayo are based on being in the best division but I don’t see it as a disaster.”
Not since 2010 have Mayo finished above third in Division 1, winning just 24 of their last 55 round games, and a lot of that has been reasoned on the large proportion of the panel living in Dublin.
The split camp is widely regarded as not being conducive to strong performances in Division 1. Another recently retired Mayo footballer Alan Dillon, a Fine Gael colleague of Lavin’s, has spoken about the need to incentivise players to stay in Mayo but Lavin isn’t so sure it’s a solution.
“I don’t think that it’s a real factor,” he says of the capital-based footballers. “I know some people do (think that) but the groups can prepare themselves pretty well. I suppose it’s the fact Mayo have got to the final so many times over the years, the club takes over and we don’t get into the rhythm quickly enough at the start of the year.
“Senior inter-county Division 1 football is very difficult and you have to be at the top of your game virtually every time you go out.
"Dublin are going to be involved in the sixth final in a row and before them Cork won four league titles. Dublin can put out a strong team every weekend and Mayo have been trying a number of lads, they don’t put enough emphasis on the league and they’re not playing well at the minute.”
Last Sunday’s injuries to Lee Keegan and Cillian O’Connor, although the latter should be fit to face Galway on May 13, have Mayo supporters fearing another Championship defeat to their neighbours.
Lavin knows it too and while there are doubts about how Mayo would be suited to a third consecutive entry into the qualifiers he would look upon it as a chance to transformation.
“We lost to Galway the last two years and to lose a third one would be difficult. Again, I know people are mentioning that Mayo have played a lot of Championship games over the last number of years but I honestly believe that there is a need for change.
"Looking at the lads who have a serious amount of miles on the clock and picking up injuries, the opportunity for some new players to be involved could happen through the backdoor much easier than through the front.
“Like relegation, I don’t think losing to Galway would be the end of the world but it is a real Championship game. There is still a kick left in Mayo but the backdoor would only be an escape route. Beating Galway is the preference and the injuries Mayo have picked up are a serious factor especially when you consider Galway’s league form as well.”
As for tomorrow, he’s not anticipating the worst just yet. Mayo have a choice of two results to avoid relegation; Donegal only have one.
That could be the difference in itself, he feels.
“It’s an amazing record that Mayo have and it’s unfortunate to find ourselves in the position we’re in after doing so well in the last number of years.
“It’s a difficult game to call because if there is any kick in Donegal they’ll be happy to be playing Mayo at this point. But it’s not over yet.
"The fact that a draw is a factor is going to make the difference. Donegal have to win and they’re under pressure to win whereas in a tight game a draw is something that could possibly happen.”
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