Our hope was that Mayo would have something to play for in our final group game against Donegal in Castlebar and that the Super 8 experience wouldn’t turn into a nightmare.
For that to occur, we needed to beat Meath in Croke Park while hoping Donegal wouldn't beat Kerry in the game after. Both happened thankfully - but only just. The 2-17 to 0-14 final scoreline between Mayo and Meath looks like a convincing win for James Horan's team - but it was anything but. It has an extremely flattering look, to say the least.
For long periods of this game Mayo looked in trouble. In between some delightful passages of play there were moments of frustration and concern. Uncharacteristic mistakes, poor handling, poor passing and poor execution by some of the finest exponents of the game, had the large Mayo contingent in Croke Park gasping, confused and fearful of going out of the All-Ireland championship.
No two games are the same but, had Mayo played as they did Meath against any of the other top four teams in the Super 8's, they would have been beaten comprehensively - as they were by Kerry in Killarney the previous week. Mayo would be packing their bags out of the Super 8's with a game to spare. Thankfully we are still there.
Numbers show there are improvements to be made
The teams went in level at 0-7 apiece at half time but Mayo's efficiency in front of the posts was again a real cause for concern. Out of 17 first half attempts from play, Mayo scored only six points. Cillian O'Connor scored the other point from one of two first half frees for his team. Seven points from 19 attempts constitutes a very poor 37% return. Three attempts dropped short, two were blocked and five more were wides. That figure will need to be at or over 60% against the better teams. That is not a made up number, that is a fact.
We can be grateful Meath were as wasteful as ourselves. The introduction of Andy Moran and Seamie O'Shea in the second half helped stabilise matters. Moran was pivotal as a target man and his involvement helped his team score a very healthy 2-10 for the second period. However Mayo’s overall return of 19 scores from 34 attempts (56% ) will not win us any more games in this year's championship.
Mayo were two points down with 20 minutes to go and only playing in patches. A well-executed score or pass was often followed by a schoolboy error. It was hard to watch at times as Mayo couldn't shake a very average Meath team. Andy Moran's interception of a Meath kick-out to set up Kevin McLoughlin's goal was certainly a turning point. Mayo won the game in a devastating 12 minute spell from the 54th to the 66th minute where they outscored the Royals by 1-05 to 0-00 during that period. The relief around Croke Park was plainly visible and audible among the supporters.
Boyle battles like no-one else
One thing for certain however, casting aside shooting statistics and permutations about what may have happened, we have a very resilient bunch of players that will die with their jerseys on even in the face of adversity. Colm Boyle epitomised that against Meath in another man of the match display, where he simply refused to bow to anything that was thrown at him. He is Mayo's only representative on this week's GAA.ie team of the week, a testament to his performance. Mayo's injury crisis can only be summed up by the fact that only five players had started in every game up until the Meath match. That figure now becomes four because of the injury picked up by Keith Higgins. Brendan Harrison, Aidan O'Shea, Jason Doherty and Darren Coen, are now the only ones that fall into that category; the lowest number of any of the teams left in the Super 8's. An obvious sign of the injury problems was the calling up of Oisin Mullin to the match day 26 after only three training sessions with the team. Mayo have used 31 players in this year's championship - which are unheard of numbers really.
Donegal will be favourites to make the semi-final. It's a straight shoot-out between ourselves and Michael Murphy and Co. After the loss to Roscommon, we'd gladly have taken a game against Donegal to see who makes a semi-final. That opportunity has now presented itself. Hopefully some of our injured personnel are fit to take part to give us a much needed psychological boost and to give us a genuine chance of upsetting the odds.
Roscommon bowed out of the championship after another thumping by the Dubs. Last year it was 14 points, this year an 18 points defeat to the standard bearers. It really was a nightmare scenario for the Connaught champions - with Tyrone and Dublin being last year's All-Ireland finalists in the first two games. Cork on the other hand will be kicking themselves after throwing away a commanding seven point lead against Tyrone to keep their chances alive. Cork now face the Rossies' in a dead rubber encounter next week in Pairc ui Rinn. Donegal and Kerry squared up in the game of the year last weekend finishing level on a scoreline of 1-20 to 1-20. We will have more on that enthralling encounter next week.