Mission complete, just about. Mayo were involved in another roller-coaster of a contest last weekend when they played Clare in a winner-takes-all ticket to division one of the national football league for 2022.
Conditions in Ennis were overcast but sweltering at the same time. As far as this game goes, Mayo's failure to hammer the hammer and control what seemed an unassailable lead, left most of us Mayo folk leaving Ennis feeling like we had lost the game.
There was a serious anti-climax at the final whistle as Mayo hung on to win by only four, despite being 11 points ahead at half time. Apart from surrendering a huge advantage and not closing out the game comfortably, the injuries picked up by the O'Connor brothers Diarmuid and Cillian, are probably the main reason we felt flat at the final whistle, despite winning the game and ultimately achieving our main goal.
Both their injuries looked to be of a serious nature when they happened and then this week Mayo GAA confirmed that Cillian O'Connor is to have a procedure on an achilles tendon injury and with the championship just around the corner, it doesn't augur well for Mayo's chances this year, I hope I'm wrong. In the 11th minute Diarmuid winced underneath us in the press box, distressed looking, almost certainly after tearing his hamstring. You can tell a lot by a person's body language and from the look on his face, you knew things weren't good.
He immediately walked straight down the tunnel, out of sight, to the confines of the Mayo dressing room. Just before half time Cillian was in a heap inside the Clare six yard box after running across the goal and falling unchallenged.
The signs didn't look good either for the championship's top scorer on his 100th competitive appearance for his county. His leg looked locked as he also limped heavily to the dressing room for urgent attention. He was the focal point of Mayo's attack while he was on and most certainly the Mayo performance deteriorated when he left the field.
In the first half Mayo played some sensational counter-attacking football, most of it going through Mayo's full forward. Mayo got off to a flyer, Clare in turn upped the ante and played with real gusto to let us know that they weren't just there to make up the numbers; but after the 10th minute, Mayo dominated and controlled the game, scoring an impressive 1-7 without reply.
Mayo's goal came from the penalty spot after Cillian O'Connor was fouled by Clare full back Cillian Brennan. Another ref would have most certainly issued the Clare full back with a black card. Cillian dispatched the penalty brilliantly.
Aidan O'Shea was superb in the middle of the field in the first half. For the life of me, I couldn't figure out why the Clare goalkeeper, Stephen Ryan, kept kicking the ball out on top of him; he won almost every kick-out that came his way. He out-muscled a very tall and dangly Darren O'Neill in the process.
Mayo's second goal came in the 31st minute from a superb sweeping move that was all about pace and power running. Tommy Conroy and Oisin Mullin interchanged passes, while running right through the Clare defence, before Mullin cut back on his left foot to drive the ball high into the roof of the Clare net. It was a brilliant goal by the young footballer of the year.
The game looked all but over at half time with Mayo ahead by 2-13 to 0-8. What unfolded in the second half was slightly alarming. Mayo have a desperate habit of letting teams back into games, instead of being ruthless.
Clare knew what was at stake and went after the game, outscoring us by 2-10 to 0-9 in that second period. Big midfielder O Neill wreaked havoc when he went in near the Mayo goal, fisting a ball out of Robbie Hennelly's hand to the net for their first goal and winning a high centre by Eoin Cleary before laying off to Gavin Cooney for the second. It took a couple of cool Mayo heads to restore matters and keep possession of the football at the end as Clare whittled the lead down to only three points at one stage.
Despite the near capitulation, there were lots of positives to take out of this game. Mayo had 13 different scorers. Five of Mayo's starting backs scored, accounting for 1-05 of Mayo's total – Enda Hession being the odd one out. It's vitally important though to get the balance right between defending and attacking or better teams will wipe us off the face of the earth.
Matthew Ruane continued with his impressive two-points-a-game trend from midfield. He looks really powerful in full flight and will probably be a little disappointed he didn't score more. On a day when the ultimate objective was achieved, we wait with bated breath for news on the O'Connor brothers.
I can't but congratulate my old boss John Maughan on Offaly’s superb promotion to division two of the football league after a handsome 1-14 to 0-12 win over Fermanagh in their division three semi-final.
Maughan and his Derry counterpart Rory Gallagher have decided to play their division three final next weekend, a week out from the championship. A game of that magnitude is better than five training sessions and is a good idea, in my opinion.
Complacency can be the root of all evil, Munster champions Tipperary and Ulster champions Cavan will be plying their trade in division four of the 2022 football league after losing to Longford and Wicklow. It's a serious fall from grace after the highs achieved last year.