It’s safe to say nobody saw coming what transpired last Sunday in Tuam Stadium, Galway had been flying post-lockdown and were looking good to win the league title.
Several months had indeed passed since these sides last played a game. Galway were shorn of a number of key players and lost two of their main men through injury, early in the first half; and freak results happen all the time. But the vim and vigour and self confidence that Mayo played with - especially in the first half when they registered 2-17 - was something to enjoy and also let people know there is life in the old dog - well, a not particularly old dog yet, it turns out.
The Mayo team that took to the field in Tuam was packed full of experience, thanks to the likes of David Clarke, Aidan O’Shea, Lee Keegan, Paddy Durcan and Cillian O’Connor - the other ten players have all come from our u21 and u20 sides since 2016. When you take the evergreen Clarke out of the equation, the average age drops significantly again.
The four with the most inter-county experience are the quartet who tasted All Ireland glory in 2016 with the u21s - Stephen Coen, Matthew Ruane, Conor Loftus and Diarmuid O’Connor.
Fionn McDonagh lined out with the u21s in 2017, with Eoghan McLaughlin and Tommy Conroy both members of the 2018 u21 team, while three starters the last day, Oisin Mullin, David McBrien and Mark Moran, were fresh out of u20 action this season.
You can also throw in the likes of Jordan Flynn, Ryan O’Donoghue, Michael Plunkett, Rory Brickenden and Bryan Walsh, who started on the bench against Galway, who are all graduates of various u20 and u21 sides in that same time period post 2016.
Indeed only eight players who started Mayo’s last do-or-die game - the All Ireland semi-final last year against Dublin - started what was a vital game for Mayo in their quest to remain in division one last Sunday.
Mayo manager James Horan was pleased with how these younger players performed against Galway - with Mark Moran picking up the man-of-the-match award on his senior debut.
Horan said after: “We had five u21s on there and we brought on two more, so a lot of the young players who have come through are very talented. We have Tommy Conroy and Oisin Mullin as well who made debuts early on, but Mark has been playing for Westport all season, is very comfortable on the ball and is a both-sided player, so he did really well today.”
The enthusiasm and energy brought to the display last weekend was something else that Horan was very pleased to see.
“Yah, great energy and enthusiasm by the team. I said before the game they were looking forward to playing and they played that way so, very happy with that aspect of it.
“Our teamwork was very good today, trying to give the right ball at the right time - good support lines, we dropped it a bit at the start of the second half, we held on to the ball a bit too long. But when we moved the ball and our energy was high, I thought we very good.
“As I said, in our young players I do think there is a lot of quality there and they are very good ball winners and are adding to things.”
While there are big names with plenty of experience that will be chomping at the bit to get back into the action and surely will over the next few weeks - last weekend showed there is plenty of younger talent there to ensure a bright future for football in Mayo, no matter the outcome.