How could we ever doubt Mayo when it comes to the crunch?

Up in the air: Lee Keegan and Colm Boyle engage in some aerial acrobatics with Michael Murphy last Saturday. Photo: Sportsfile

Up in the air: Lee Keegan and Colm Boyle engage in some aerial acrobatics with Michael Murphy last Saturday. Photo: Sportsfile

It was an occasion like we have never experienced, it was a performance that we have become somewhat accustomed to, it was a result we could only have dreamed of. It was a proper Mayo day.

I spoke to Peter Canavan and Kieran Donaghy three hours before throw-in and both were very bullish about Mayo's chances, both said Mayo would win. I'm not sure if they stuck to their convincing mindsets once the Sky cameras started rolling but they eradicated any doubt I had.

Should you ever question Mayo's desire? Should anyone ever question their resilience again? Once the warm-up speakers were removed from the playing surface of Elvery's McHale Park and the pre-match carnival ended, you could cut the tension with a knife.

When the teams arrived on the pitch it was evident who had the bigger support. The decibel levels rose considerably when Aidan O'Shea and crew thundered out of the tunnel. This was a do-or-die scenario and you realised from the get-go that if Mayo were going to die, they were at least going to go down fighting. That was all we could ask for, if it wasn't enough so be it.

It was a momentous game with the most surreal atmosphere, one like I have never experienced in MacHale Park before. Donegal brought plenty to the event but are there really any better supporters than ours? Nope.

The way Mayo set itself up, the ferocity of the tackles and the ideal match-ups - all set the tone for what was about to unfold. It was well documented that Murphy, McHugh and McBrearty merited special attention and boy did they get it. Jaime Brennan left his Ulster performances behind him. In between letting David Gough know I wasn't one bit happy with some of his decision making, I spent most of the game watching Lee Keegan do what Lee does, curbing the threat of man-mountain Michael Murphy. Keegan had no care in the world except for stopping the Donegal captain. Credit has to be given to Murphy though, while the walls started crumbling around him he stood tall in the second half.

Paddy Durcan was given the unenviable job of trying to thwart the threat of Ryan McHugh. Stopping Murphy and McHugh are things that no team in Ulster - or Kerry for that matter - managed to do - but those teams don't have a Lee Keegan or a Paddy Durcan. Durcan was heroic, on top of his defensive duties, he chipped in with three points from play against one of the most feared players in the country.

Defensively Mayo were magnificent. The overall performance was so satisfactory I asked those on Twitter to help me pick a man of the match. Durcan was the overwhelming winner but there were sound cases made for several others, indicating a strong team performance. The O'Shea brothers set the tone at midfield, Aidan was in 'beast mode' and had a blinder winning man of the match on Sky. Seamie played as well as I have witnessed, before his substitution in the 72nd minute. There were plenty of cases made for Chris Barrett, Colm Boyle, Brendan Harrison too. Eoin O'Donoghue was superb when he came in for the black-carded Keith Higgins.

Up front, James Carr had some defining moments and Andy Moran's contribution from the bench was critical to the cause, but Jason Doherty had one of those games that will live long in the memory. His ability to win dirty ball from Robbie Hennelly's restarts was nothing short of brilliant - on top of nailing the point of the day and setting up Cillian O'O’Connor’s goal - albeit from a mis-kicked shot. His injury was a sickening blow and has ruled him out for club and county for the rest of the season since the dreaded cruciate ligament injury was confirmed. Just when things were looking up, with Mattie Ruane making a welcome return and the inspirational Tom Parsons - after 15 months of hell, being deemed fit to take a spot on the bench - we have been dealt another cruel blow.

Parsons was raring and ready for Donegal, there was no sentimental decision on James Horan's part. Don't rule out game time against Dublin on Saturday evening for the Charlestown native. You have to feel for Doherty though, he was one of only four constant presences throughout this year's championship, his unavailability will leave a big gap to fill.

Mayo have huge calls to make for tomorrow's eagerly anticipated All-Ireland semi final. For Donegal you had three to four players to worry about. Against Dublin, you have 10. Will it be Paddy Durcan on a head-to-head with Jack McCaffrey? That would be worth the ticket price alone. Lee Keegan is always thrust upon the opposition's biggest threat but who will that be on Saturday? In the 2017 All-Ireland final it was Ciaran Kilkenny who got "Leeroyed" because of his influence on Dublin's win over Tyrone in that year's semi final. Kilkenny hasn't been as influential this year so will it be Paul Mannion, Con O'Callaghan, Brian Howard or even Brian Fenton that Lee is set upon? Your guess is as good as mine.

Mayo are overwhelming underdogs for obvious reasons. It's our eighth game in nine weeks. It's comforting that last weekend we looked our fittest and strongest. We can't ask for any more but for the players to give their all, leave it on the pitch and see where it takes us.

The shameful distribution of tickets for the big game has left numerous supporters in Mayo and the Capital furious. People were queuing for up to seven hours in supermarkets around the country, only to be told there was nothing available by the time they got to the top of the queue. It's time the GAA sorted another embarrassing mess out. Nobody should have to endure that nonsense in 2019 to secure a match day ticket.

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