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Back when Pat Holmes and Noel Connelly took charge of the Mayo u21s for the first time in 2006, Keith Higgins was the man who they entrusted as their leader on the field. When the duo took the reins of the senior team this year it was the Ballyhaunis man they looked to again to be their battlefield commander. Higgins has been one of the finest defenders in the game over the best part of the last decade and he knows despite what others may say about the championship proper only beginning in August, it kicked off in earnest a long time ago. "If you're a Mayo player and you see the draw coming out and you see you've Galway in Salthill, that's where the championship starts no matter how good your record has been the last few years. That's championship stuff and that's what gets you going. You ask the Donegal boys and they'll say the same thing when they'd to play Tyrone in the first round at the end of May. They can't be thinking ahead to August. But August is where you want to be."
Mayo used 21 players yesterday on the field in their historic win over Sligo as they picked up their fifth Connacht title on the bounce, we run our eye over the performance of all those 21 players.
Mayo made it five wins in a row in Salthill last Sunday against Galway in the first real test of the Holmes and Connelly era with a bit to spare. While the gap was only four points at full time whistle in reality, Mayo always had the Tribesmen fended off apart from a brief period at the tail end of the first-half that culminated with Gary Sice's thunderbolt of a goal.
The time is nigh. Mayo will put their Connacht championship on the line when they travel to Salthill in Galway to take on the home side in the Connacht semi-final on Sunday. It has been 10 weeks since we watched the green and red in competitive action, but the time seems to have just dwindled away, such was the anticipation about what may unfold in Salthill.
It’s been a long wait and it's nearly over. Since Mayo last tasted competitive action almost every other county has been involved in championship action, with Sligo the only side to have not got their summer underway by the time Mayo throw in against Galway on Sunday. This will be the first proper test of the Holmes and Connelly management ticket in the white heat of championship action and they couldn’t have asked for a more traditional joust than a meeting with Galway in their own back yard.
With Mayo’s involvement in the National League over I had a brief look back at their games to do somewhat of a summary of their performances throughout the competition. There is no question it was a roller coaster campaign with lots of highs and lows involved.
The Connacht Championship will throw-in, in three weeks time when Galway cross the Atlantic to take on New York, but Mayo are now in a holding pattern for the next nine weekends, until they in all probability take on Galway in Pearse Stadium in the Connacht semi-final. By that stage the Tribesmen should have two wins under their belts as they are down to face Leitrim a fortnight after their Big Apple adventure.
If one incident defined how much more Dublin were up for this game that Mayo it was when early in the second half, Aidan O’Shea got in behind the Dublin defence. He stumbled but fed the ball to Mark Ronaldson, who pulled the trigger. But out of nowhere Denis Bastick got back to not only block the ball, but gather it and break clear. It was an outstanding feat of athleticism and brilliance by the Ballymun Kickhams man.
Two weeks is a long time in sport. All of a sudden after two very impressive wins in the National League things look rosy in the Mayo camp as they sit proudly at the summit of division one. We have to be clear on this, Mayo are not going to win every game left in the league (maybe they will). The management are still learning and their most important lesson came when Tyrone visited MacHale Park. You cannot but be impressed by the way they and the players have responded, a thrashing of Monaghan followed by a hard fought win away against Derry in Celtic Park.
Mayo could be without one of their key attackers for their meeting with Dublin next Saturday night, joint manager Noel Connelly revealed on Sunday after his teams win over Derry in Celtic Park.