Not long after captaining Mayo to their fifth All Ireland semi-final in as many years, Keith Higgins reflected on what had just happened out on the field of action in Croke Park. The swashbuckling Mayo number four had scored one point and been part of a new look Mayo defensive set up that nullified Donegal's main attacking threats over the 70 minutes on the field. "Satisfying is one word, I would suppose. I don't know how you would describe it to be honest" was his initial reaction when asked to describe what had just happened.
Elaborating on the game itself the Ballyhaunis man went on to say, "I thought it we did pretty well, it probably wasn't the prettiest of games for a lot it. I thought we were pretty solid at the back, and when we went forward at the start of the second half the second goal and a couple of points probably killed it off. We had a lot of chances in the the last 10 or 15 minutes but we didn't take them. But at the same time we didn't let them in for much."
The move of springing Barry Moran into the fray, and placing him in a new sweeping role, took most people by surprise, but the big Castlebar man's performance was not something that surprised his captain. "We tried Barry back there and I think we got the set up right in fairness. Barry went back there and we'd an extra one or two bodies back there at times, I think we may have conceded one or two goal chances, but there was no real danger there. I thought that any kind of ball they won was out towards the wings, and they were shooting from 30 and 40 yards so I thought we were set up well there," said the All Ireland u21 winning captain, before adding: "We did a bit the last few weeks but nothing major, Barry's a smart player he knows, you go through things a few times and he knows where he has to go. There were times when he was back in there and if not [was not needed] he could push out there, he was able to play it as he saw it and it worked out well."
Keeping things tight at the back
As for the defence putting in such a good shift after coming in for criticism for leaking goals against both Galway and Sligo in previous rounds, Higgins admitted they were happy that they had tightened things up at the back this time, saying: "Very satisfying, there was a lot of talk after the Galway and Sligo game that our defence was a little shaky and bringing Barry back there gave us that extra body, particularly under the high ball. But even outside that I thought we defended very well. Against a team like Donegal if you stop them scoring goals you're in with a great chance."
As for having to master the Donegal style of attack, Mayo drew on what they had learned from previous encounters with teams who play like that, Higgins said. "It's difficult to play against but it's nothing new, playing against the likes of Donegal over the last few years and Tyrone this year in the league did something similiar to us, but it's just about being patient and biding your time I suppose. If you're patient the gaps will appear and the shots will be there to be taken. It's just a matter of looking for the right gaps the whole time. Having Barry drop that bit further back and having Boyler there, if they've a lot of bodies behind the ball there's no point in having four or five of our own bodies on our own 45 doing nothing, you don't say no when you get the chance. It went well today."
When asked about getting back to the semi-final and playing Dublin for a spot in the final, that is where Mayo want to be the dual star added, saying: "It's good, it shows the level we've been at the last few years, but at the end of the day, no-one remembers who played in the semi-final. Who else do you want to be playing, it's one of the best teams in the country, it'll be as close as possible to a full house and that's where you want to be. The atmosphere is always good playing Dublin and that's where you want to be."
There were never any doubts in the Mayo camp that they had that kind of performance in them according to their leader on the field who concluded the interview saying: "We knew the performance was in us, you always hope it's going to come out, sometimes it doesn't. We were confident that that performance was there. Like any day you go out it's a matter of going out and delivering it. Having the lead going into the second half probably made things a small bit easier, but we could have probably kicked on and won it by a bit more, but I thought we we're always fairly comfortable to be honest."