QUARTER-FINALS are potential banana skins for provincial champions. They don’t have a second chance. Others, honed by the qualifiers, who have had opportunities to mend their weaknesses along the way, who have gained momentum and confidence, come to the last eight equipped with advantages that are not available to provincial winners.
Squad practice is no substitute for the real thing. Mayo’s two championship encounters so far this season have not sufficiently prepared them for a stage in the championship where strong teams converge and from which they could be dumped almost before they have begun.
Only from Galway in their first match of the Connacht campaign has Mayo had any real challenge. Sligo, high-spirited from their surprise defeat of Roscommon, offered only token resistance for which Mayo were as ready as they needed to be.
To be sure, records were broken in the Connacht final, individual achievements acclaimed, and the rest of the country warned that Mayo have lost none of their ambition or energy. They will also have set in motion Donegal’s plans to negate the effectiveness of Aidan O’Shea, Cillian O’Connor, Tom Parsons, Donal Vaughan, Lee Keegan and the rest.
Big wins in the last few years have not eased Mayo’s difficulties in their attempts to get over the final line. Among the heaviest of those defeats was that inflicted on Donegal at the same stage in the championship two years ago. The northern side have not got over that 16-point drubbing, and it will act as a source of inspiration for an avenging crack at Mayo on Saturday.
In their last ten-minute blitz of Galway on Saturday you could sense it was not maroon jerseys that stood between Donegal and victory, it was green and red. Mayo were in their sights. The quality of their finish reflected a passion to settle an old score. It was a statement of intent.
They salvaged some pride in their league game a few months back when they drew with Mayo at MacHale Park. On that occasion they were without Michael Murphy, their most valuable player, and his deft touches were paramount on Saturday in trampling the tender growth of Galway’s resurgence.
Ryan McHugh was in the half-forward line that day. On Sunday he played a leading role in their recovery as a wing-back, and teamed up brilliantly with the ageless Colm McFadden and Murphy for the score that dispatched the Tribesmen.
Flawed shooting spoiled the dominance Mayo enjoyed in the second half of that league encounter in April. They were also without their pivotal attacker Cillian O’Connor, Tom Parsons and Ger Cafferkey. And Diarmuid O’ Connor was dispatched for a black-card offence.
A notable feature also was the special treatment dished out to Aidan O’Shea, and in the light of the Mayo man’s heroics against Sligo, the full-forward can expect on Saturday similar suspect effort to bridle his bustling charges. It is a chance for those around him to take advantage of attempts made to contain the Breaffy man.
We expected the younger, more energetic Galway to have had the legs on Donegal in the final stages on Saturday. Amazingly, McFadden seemed to have been reinvigorated, and together with Neil McGee, Frank McGlynn, Martin McElhinney, McHugh, Odhrán Mac Niallais and Murphy powered to an impressive and surprisingly vigorous finish.
I suspect Mayo management will have been anticipating the emergence of Donegal and will have planned accordingly over the past two weeks. Knowing their weakness under the high ball, Donegal will bombard the Mayo defence expecting Murphy and McBrearty to make hay.
Murphy on the edge of the box is as big a threat to Mayo as O’Shea is to Donegal. Kevin Keane may be their best option, best able to deal with the big man. He is strong and mobile and may also have something to prove since the All-Ireland final of 2012.
But, as the great Mick O’Dwyer once said, “You have to be positive about your own way; if you are thinking about the other team and trying to counteract them, you are not going to win.”
So let Donegal do the worrying for once. Mayo will more than match them at midfield and in the two half lines. No significant change is expected in the Mayo selection. No injury of note has been picked up.
The outcome may boil down to a test of endurance, who stays the pace longer, whether after a tough campaign Donegal can bring the intensity of their final ten minutes against Galway to the whole 70 minutes, or whether the fresher Mayo can compensate for their lack of game time.
I think they can ... and will.
The last word on the famous final of 1910?
THE last word on the saga of the 1910 championship comes from a loyal reader in east Mayo who wishes to remain anonymous. The win, over which there had been some doubt, completed a quintet of titles, the first to be won by any county in the province.
He writes that in researching the event he had to keep reminding himself that just as the world of 1910 was totally different from the world of today so, too, was the GAA.
In 1910 the GAA was more orientated towards club than county and this was reflected in the make-up of the county senior team, says the writer. The Mayo team then was almost entirely composed of players from the county championship winners, Ballina Stephenites, with one player from Castlebar Mitchels and two from Lacken.
“Another thing to remember is that the All-Ireland championship was not as streamlined as in later years, so there wasn’t always the natural progression from provincial championship to the All-Ireland semi-finals.
“For instance we find that on the third Sunday of August, 1910, Mayo lost to Kerry in the All-Ireland semi-final, while the Connacht semi-final between Galway and Sligo was fixed for the last Sunday of August.
“It appears that when the provincial championship wasn’t finished in time, the reigning champions (Mayo in this case) represented the province in the All-Ireland semi-final.”
The Connacht final of 1910 was played in Ballina on the last Sunday of October between Mayo and Galway in conjunction with the hurling final between the same counties.
The writer goes on to describe the game as written in the Western People.
“The report referred to the Mayo team as Mayo and then again as the Stephenite team, and I suppose from a local perspective that is understandable. The report also referred to Mayo/Stephenites as the reigning provincial champions.”
He concludes: “I don’t suppose that the Mayo team was quite aware of the significance of their win on the last Sunday of October in 1910 and, no doubt, never imagined that it would be over a hundred years before a Mayo team would achieve a similar feat.
“So as we honour our heroes of today we should also remember the men of 1910. They deserve honourable mention in GAA history.”
The Mayo team was: Willie Boshell (capt), Paudi Sweeney, goal, Bartly Ferguson, A Boshell, T Gibson, J Franklin, P Farmer, J Moran, T Boshell, A Hanley, G Fitzgerald, E Boshell, G Jordan, F Courell, (all Stephenites), Mike McHugh (Castlebar Mitchels), Martin Farrell and B Durcan (Lacken).