Little rest for Mayo after a weekend of drama

Little did I think that in trying to explain the scoring permutations in last week's column, they would have such relevance for the fate of six teams last weekend. There were frantic finishes to three games in three different venues that had serious consequences for the teams involved.

It was even more surreal that the fate of those six teams all boiled down to injury-time frees in those three different venues that were all spurned, yet had they gone over, the outcomes and the landscape of the rest of the All-Ireland championship would have been so different.

Had Aidan O'Shea's attempt not dropped short in the TUS Gaelic grounds in Limerick, Mayo would have home advantage this weekend against a third-placed team from another group instead of a nightmare fixture away to Galway. Cork's three-point win meant Mayo and Cork finished level on scoring difference, but Cork took the second spot because they had scored four points more than Mayo during the group stages. It was that tight; it went to the most points scored.

Had Shane Walsh converted a late free in Carrick-on-Shannon against Armagh, Galway were straight through to the All-Ireland quarter-final. Instead, they now have a nightmare clash at home to Mayo.

In Breffni Park, John Heslin kicked inches wide for Westmeath with the last kick of the game against Tyrone that would have knocked the 2021 All-Ireland champions out of the championship and advanced Dessie Dolan's team to a preliminary quarter-final in their place. That's what it came down to. Heslin was flawless from placed balls all day up to then. It was an agonizing end for him and his team to see his effort drift wide.

Another intriguing aspect was that Galway would have definitely expected Tyrone to beat Westmeath, which would also have sent Padraig Joyce's team through to the quarter-finals as group winners, no matter what their result against Armagh was. The outcomes of those matches and the missed frees had noteworthy repercussions.

More pressing for us was the Mayo performance against Cork. I felt it was going to be a dogfight, and Cork would make them work for it, but when Mayo went six points up after Tommy Conroy's goal, not even the most optimistic Cork supporter would have given the Rebels a chance with only fifteen minutes left on the clock.

This was a grand-scale capitulation from Mayo, conceding 1-06 at the end to lose the game by three points, which was the minimum victory required by Cork to surpass Mayo in the standings. There were few, if any, positives from the contest, with the exception of the performance of Jordan Flynn, who kicked four impressive points from play.

The problem for Mayo now is the recovery time. It takes time to get over such a lacklustre performance, losing a commanding lead, time to iron out a few things, figure out where it all went wrong, and then to try to instill a bit of confidence back into the players. Mayo don't have that time.

Psychologically, Mayo's defeat to Cork was worse than Galway's loss to Armagh, for a few simple reasons. Galway were never in the driving seat against Armagh in Carrick-on-Shannon as Mayo were in Limerick. It's seriously deflating to cough up such a lead. Secondly, Galway took to the field without the services of the ever-reliable Dylan McHugh and the powerhouse that is Damien Comer, who both picked up injuries at their training the Thursday evening before their game.

There is no suggestion that either will be fit to play against Mayo, as is the case with their captain Sean Kelly, who went off injured against Armagh. But if those three are deemed fit to play, it will give the Tribesmen a serious boost and could sway the outcome. Three weeks ago, many were predicting an all Connacht All-Ireland final between Mayo and Galway.

The grim reality is that one of this year's Division One finalists is now not even going to make it to the All-Ireland quarter-final proper and is going to have a much longer than expected summer free of inter-county football. Mayo has this unwanted habit of playing at the level of their opponents no matter who they are. Be it impressively beating the All-Ireland champions Kerry or then struggling massively against Division two Louth, who conceded an astonishing 10-45 in two of their games against Dublin and Kerry.

It's one of those things that's hard to wrap your head around. Any team will feel they have a chance against us. This leaves me clinging to the hope that Mayo will rise to the Galway challenge. Both teams have key players struggling for form, and their managers will have done everything in their power to try to get the best out of them for Sunday.

There is no easy ride from here on in, with a mouth-watering quarter-final awaiting the winners. Losing is certainly not an option anymore. After a season that promised so much earlier in the year, unquestionable doubt has crept in regarding Mayo's credentials and chances. Hopefully, the Maroon jersey will bring out the best in our boys.

Who will win the battle of the Connacht rivals in the hunt for The Sam? Check out EPIC ODDS with BoyleSports on the match, get 2/1 (was evens ) for Galway to win or 2/1 (was evens ) for Mayo to win the match, exclusively with BoyleSports.

 

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