Last Sunday's way below par performance and subsequent defeat by our biggest Connacht rivals - Galway - made it a very bitter pill to swallow for the Mayo faithful who travelled to Hastings Insurance MacHale Park in huge numbers.
Most left the game baffled, bewildered and deflated. With glorious championship conditions on a splendid sunny Sunday afternoon in Castlebar with the new surface in pristine condition - all we wanted was a performance to befit the occasion, what could possibly go wrong? Almost everything did. I heard comparisons of this defeat to our shocking loss to Longford in 2010, but surely it wasn't as bad as that, was it?
On February 27 Mayo stood proudly at the summit of the division one national football league table along with Kerry. Mayo had won three and drawn one of their first four league games.
Wholesale changes were made from week to week for those games but one thing remained constant, Mayo were winning. No matter where I travelled to matches around the country and no matter what pundits I spoke to, they were all in agreement, Mayo were one of the top handful teams to beat in 2022. Their opinions were based on the fact that Mayo had unearthed a conveyor belt of new players who were able to win tight games be it in Clones or Croke Park and our panel was as strong as it had ever been.
Fast forward two short months later and it's all doom and gloom in Mayo GAA circles and the knives are out after two very grounding defeats in the league final against Kerry and last Sunday's championship loss to Galway - two games Mayo supporters were desperate to win.
Mayo left themselves way too much to do against Galway last weekend, going behind in each half by six points. After scoring seven of the last nine scores of the first half and the first point of the second half, you felt the experience gathered from multiple all-Ireland final experiences would come to fruition but again, Mayo were all out of sorts in the third quarter as Galway raced into another six-point lead with only a handful minutes to go.
It was flagged in pretty much every build-up to last weekend's game that Mayo needed to stifle the influence of Galway’s three main players, Paul Conroy, Damien Comer and Shane Walsh and although Walsh only scored one point from play, his three pointed efforts in the second half from placed balls from in or around the same place on the 45 were inspirational to say the least. Comer and Conroy particularly in the second half ran amok. Had Conroy brought his shooting boots with him he'd have ended up with six points again instead of the three he got.
Mayo's inability to change approach mid-game is worrying - constantly running the ball into traffic, constantly taking the ball down blind alleys with looping runners coming around that made little or no in-roads through an over populated defence. Far too many times the gain line wasn't broken, far too many lateral passes with little or no incision, far too many wides. Mayo had too many players that were anonymous for this game and others that did alright, but only did so in patches and yet we still only lost by a point. There was no relentless consistency from any Mayo player with the exception of maybe Ryan O'Donoghue who scored four points for his team, 0-3 from play and one from a mark.
Mayo gobbled up most of their own kick outs (83% ) and broke even with Galway from their restarts when they went long but this possession domination wasn't turned into scores. This is where the damning evidence arrives. Mayo had forty attacks but only scored 16 times from 31 shots taken at goal - which is a very poor return of 52%. The shot map makes for grim reading from a Mayo perspective. Most of the missed chances were from well inside the 45 metre line and despite a swirling breeze, it wasn't the most difficult to navigate as Shane Walsh proved.
I don't mind saying it but a one point loss was a flattering result for Mayo as Galway were much the better team. Padraic Joyce and co will be slightly worried how they nearly threw away an unassailable lead in the second half. They were deserving winners however.
I was blissfully unaware of the time frame of the qualifiers or when they were taking place as I was sure Mayo would make it to the Connacht final at the very least, so I was somewhat surprised to find out Mayo will not have a game for six weeks, which is a very long time, but time I feel that is desperately needed for injured players to recover and most importantly, for a bit of soul searching to right the wrongs.
Last Sunday makes us realise the crucial importance of Robbie Hennelly (for long distance frees ), Paddy Durcan and Jordan Flynn. Hopefully Oisin Mullin's hamstring isn't too serious either as we need a fully fit squad to compete.
We can count our luck in the timing of this defeat and the fact there are qualifiers because if it occurred in 2020 or 2021, our season was over. Imagine no county football after April for the rest of the year. Perish the thought.