The nation - or at least the 16 counties that were in the hat anyway - waited with bated breath for last Monday's qualifier draw.
After having a stranglehold on proceedings within the province from 2011 to 2015, Mayo have unfortunately become accustomed to see who we are pitted against in the early rounds of qualifiers, having lost in a Connacht semi-final or quarter-final now for the last four years in a row, three times to Galway and of course to Roscommon last month.
Mayo and Tyrone were the big names entering at this stage - the two teams that none of the first round winners wanted to be paired against. Monaghan, of course, the first round winners that none of the losing provincial semi finalists wanted to get. Host Darren Frehill even said it himself, the whole country wants to see who Mayo get, somewhat dismissing the importance of any other teams in bowl two.
I was convinced it was going to be Offaly because of the John Maughan connection, but, low and behold, Down came out of the bowl. For me, that's a sobering draw. Down cannot be taken lightly but they are certainly beatable. They are a team that will fancy having a cut off us in Pairc Esler, that's a given. Had we been drawn against the likes of Leitrim or Antrim it would have been a let-down for me, as we would have found nothing out about how Mayo have handled losing to Roscommon and whether we have reason to have renewed optimism.
Down are a team certainly deserving of respect and a team that will require Mayo to be totally focused in order to get a result, especially up in Newry, where there is always a hostile atmosphere. The 7pm timing of the fixture in Newry has certainly caused a little concern and controversy, I already feel for anyone travelling from Belmullet or Achill.
Ulster says yes - to exciting football
The 2019 Ulster championship seems to have turned into the 2018 Munster hurling championship, with thrills and spills and nail-biting finishes occurring in every game. Even the round one qualifier game between Ulster's Monaghan and Fermanagh had several flash points, with an indisciplined, wasteful Fermanagh finishing the game with 12 men and if the CCCC get their hands on footage from the game, Fermanagh substitute, Sean Quigley, who wasn't one of the three sent off and who missed a penalty during the game, could be in hot water. That game was close and nail-biting too but to steal a phrase from Pat Spillane, “It was puke football”, with Fermanagh bringing every single one of their players inside their own 45 for long periods, much to the frustration of the Monaghan players and the large crowd.
I found myself in Clones for the last two weekends for the Ulster semi-final draw and replay between Cavan and Armagh and I certainly got two crackers of games - with Cavan eventually pulling clear on a scoreline of 0-23 to 0-17 in the replay, after a thoroughly enjoyable spectacle, with some outstanding scores and individual displays.
Cavan play football the way we want to see it, they are aggressive in the tackle and let the ball do the work when the time is right. In Darragh McVeety they have a player in the finest of form and a serious outlet for the long ball into the full forward line. He's small in stature but a giant in heart and energy. Armagh simply couldn't get to grips with him.
No more than the preceding game between Monaghan and Fermanagh that had incidents aplenty, this one had a moment of concern at the end, as I watched Jarlath Burns helping his son Jarly Og Burns from the dugout into the dressing room, as he clearly wasn't well. There had been talk that Jarly Og suffered a concussion in the drawn game a week earlier and maybe shouldn't have played in the replay. He clearly wasn't himself while he was on the field as he had very little or no influence on the game after his man of the match performance in the first game. Hopefully he makes a speedy recovery but there will be questions asked as to whether he should have played or not.
Donegal are now the only team capable of beating the Dubs, according to some experts, after their impressive performance against Tyrone in the other Ulster semi final. It's astonishing how opinions change. Three weeks ago, only Mayo were the team best equipped to dethrone the Dubs', however, after the loss to Roscommon, Tyrone took over that mantle, now it's Donegal’s turn after they gave Mickey Harte and crew a footballing lesson last Saturday.
I spoke to Donegal Manager Declan Bonner in Clones on Sunday and he was buzzing after their brilliant win against Tyrone, but at the same time firmly keeping his feet on the ground. He was full of praise for his coach, former Mayo manager, Stephen Rochford, who he said was doing a brilliant job coaching his team. The Ulster final between themselves and Cavan should be a right belter.
The late great Flying Doc
It was with great sadness we learned of the passing of star of the 1950 and '51 all Ireland winning Mayo team, Padraig Carney - 'The Flying Doctor”.' I had the privilege of meeting Padraig prior to the '96 and '97 All-Ireland finals and found him such a gentleman. May he rest in Peace.