Royal victory sets up mouth-watering showdown

GAA: All Ireland Senior Football Championship

Key impact: Andy Moran made a major impact for Mayo off the bench last Sunday. Photo: Sportsfile.

Key impact: Andy Moran made a major impact for Mayo off the bench last Sunday. Photo: Sportsfile.

Come the full-time whistle in MacHale Park back in May - when Roscommon had knocked Mayo out of the Connacht Championship - the prospects for Mayo's summer were unknown and uncertain.

But now, after five hard and gruelling games, they know exactly what they have to do to make the All Ireland semi-final - last weekend's victory over Meath allied with Kerry's draw with Donegal means it's a simple equation - it's beat Donegal or bust. You'd have taken that at the end of the Roscommon game.

Last Sunday's win over Meath was far from perfect or anywhere near it, but it was exactly what was needed at the end of the day. Winning the game was the essential thing and when it came to the vital stage of the game, Mayo showed all their experience and quality in pulling away from a Meath side that, up to that juncture, had done no more than just hang in there.

Mayo will be glad to avail of the two-week break from that game before their showdown with Donegal, in order to get some well-earned rest and recuperation in - after having had to travel to Newry, Limerick, Killarney and Dublin over the past few weeks - on top of a game in Castlebar. That's five games from June 22 to July 21, a schedule that would test professionals, never mind guys holding down a day job also.

The break will also allow time for bodies to heal - last Sunday saw Mayo having to line out without Keith Higgins, who joined the list of walking wounded after picking up a knock in training in the build up. Higgins joined the list of key men out of action at the minute alongside Paddy Durcan, Diarmuid O'Connor and Matthew Ruane, if Mayo can get half of those back in harness for Donegal it will greatly aid their chances of turning over the Ulster champions.

This Mayo squad has been stretched to its limits over the summer - and they are still standing with 31 players being used over their six games in the championship. While Cillian O'Connor may have become the all-time leading scorer in the championship the previous week, last weekend he became Mayo's top scorer in this year's championship, with his 1-5 moving him on to 1-19 for the season from just three starts and one appearance off the bench since returning from injury - once again underlining his importance to this Mayo team.

One thing that we learned from last weekend is that there is still plenty of fight and football left in the old dogs of war of James Horan's team. Colm Boyle picked up the man-of-the-match award, he was all action, all day long, hassling and harrying Meath attackers, turning them over and driving forward to score a vital point in the second half. Boyle is the folk hero of the Mayo faithful who have followed this team over the past near decade - a fan favourite who never fails to give his all on the day.

Andy Moran - despite coming on at half-time - ran him close in the race for man-of-the-match, the Ballaghderreen man's influence in the outcome cannot be understated; he might have scored just one point (a brilliant score at that ), but he had a hand in 1-6 of Mayo's scores in the second half. His role in Kevin McLoughlin's goal was vital, picking off the short kick-out and feeding it on quickly to set up that chance. Moran won ball consistently while on the field and smartly used possession to keep Mayo attacks moving in the right direction.

Donegal will be a very different animal from Meath - but as for now it's job done and all about Mayo using the break to get themselves back in as good a shape as possible for the challenge to come next weekend.

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