There was no rush in the Mayo camp to take in their next opponents on Saturday.
As it happened, it turned out to be Dublin but by the time the players had walked around from the Cusack to the Hogan Stand to take their seats, the day’s second All-Ireland quarter-final was midway through the first half.
With four weeks until their semi-final date, there will be plenty of time to size up the reigning All-Ireland champions. The reason for the delay was a group meeting following their facile win over Down.
Whether it was to absorb the consequences of Andy Moran’s knee injury or acknowledge the feat of reaching the semi-finals for a second successive year, Mayo were doing things in their own sweet time.
Outside their dressing room shortly after the game, Mayo manager James Horan commiserated with the player who was still laid up on the cart that had taken him off the field.
The grimace on Horan’s face indicated the game was sadly up for Moran this season and his post-match interview in the subsequent press conference gave words to that effect. With Dublin’s own go-to guy Alan Brogan likely to be back for that game after a groin problem, Moran’s loss could be the equivalent of a two-point swing.
It will be imperative that Mayo believe they can cope without a player who has been so integral to them in Horan’s reign, let alone Saturday’s victory. He himself only managed the one point but provided Cillian O’Connor with three scoreable frees, popping the pass to Jason Doherty for his goal as well as winning the free from which Michael Conroy killed off Down in the 43rd minute.
Dan Gordon was assigned to him but it was a mismatch from the get-go, which Mayo duly indulged in. If it wasn’t tactically, life was made easy for Mayo by the disappointing standard of their opposition.
As James McCartan said afterwards, it’s difficult to gauge exactly where the victors stand considering Down failed to show up on the day.
Mayo beat what was put in front of them but their last six points were scored against a Down team that had already folded, akin to their collapse against Donegal in the Ulster final.
Horan felt it was an improvement on their Connacht final performance against Sligo but was keen not to play up the 12-point margin, even though it could have been a lot bigger but for Benny Coulter’s consolation goal in injury-time.
“We gave away two soft goals for a start. Our defending in the first half was slack. And we just didn’t take, just didn’t really go at it at times, we took the foot off the gas at times which you certainly can’t afford to do, certainly later on in the season.
“We know we have things like that to work on. But, Jesus Christ, I don’t want to sound too fecking downbeat. We’ve won an All-Ireland quarter-final by 12 points. I’d take that. I’d take that any day of the week. So we’re looking forward to Tuesday night and moving on.”
As grounded as Horan was, he was happy to point out that this was another Croke Park victory for Mayo, making it five wins out of the last 10 visits.
“Yeah, we do okay when we get here despite what some people say. We’re looking to get here as often as we can and play as well as we can and improve every time we come here. We’re doing that.
“Things are reported but it’s always interesting when you look at the stats and look at the data, which is what we do. Our record stacks up pretty well.”
Mayo had led 2-7 to 1-4 at the break, having being pegged back by Down on three occasions, the first of which was via a Kalum King goal.
The Connacht champions had taken a 1-2 to 0-1 lead in the 13th minute, with their goal coming courtesy of Doherty. Conroy netted his first in the 27th minute when Kevin McLoughlin won a Down kick-out and made a bee-line towards the goal before dispatching a hand-pass to the unmarked corner-forward.
Down were being carved up and, as good as Mayo’s six-point lead at the break was, they should have been further ahead.
They made amends when Conroy ended the game as a contest eight minutes into the second half, a quickly-taken free won by Andy Moran finding Cillian O’Connor, who squared a hand-pass to Conroy to touch the ball past Brendan McVeigh.
Thereafter, it was a procession. Down wilted, undoubtedly disabled by the fine marking jobs Keith Higgins and Lee Keegan did on danger men Conor Laverty and Mark Poland.
Indeed, as much as Mayo scored three goals, the win was built on having a defence whereas Down did not. Mayo’s midfield won their battle too, Barry Moran was peerless in the air in the first half and Aidan O’Shea took over following the interval.
Their top-four position consolidated, there is enough reason for the Mayo following to be buoyed considering they are still a year away from where they want to be in conditioning.
But, with their sidelined captain in mind, at what price did Saturday’s advance come?
Scorers for Mayo: C O’Connor 0-7 (6f), M Conroy 2-1, A Dillon 0-4, J Doherty 1-0, K McLoughlin 0-2; A Moran, L Keegan, A O’Shea, E Varley 0-1 each.
Scorers for Down: A Carr 0-7 (5f), B Coulter 1-1, K King 1-0, L Doyle (1f).
Subs for Mayo: A Freeman for A Moran (inj, 54), R Feeney for Doherty (inj, 59), E Varley for Conroy (64), J Gibbons for O’Shea (65), C Barrett for Boyle (67).
Subs for Down: A Branagan for McParland (inj, 22), D O’Hare for McCartan (inj, 32), L Doyle for Maginn (h-t), D Turley for Garvey (41), D Rooney for McArdle (59).
Referee: Maurice Deegan (Laois).
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