Hunger was the difference between Mayo and Donegal last Sunday according to many pundits; it was more like starvation. What more can you say, the best ever performance by a Mayo team in Croke Park and I don’t say that lightly. Donegal didn’t know what hit them, the way they dismantled the All-Ireland champions was so impressive it scared the living daylights out of everybody watching including the remaining three teams left in the competition. I was on Highland Radio (Donegal’s local station ) the Wednesday evening before the quarter final and after telling it as it was, that I thought this Mayo team were in a really good place because of their build up, the competition for places and their ability to ease and not rush players back from injury unlike Donegal, and that Mayo were in serious physical shape, only to be jibed somewhat by James McHugh and Paul McGonigle (two former Donegal players ) that “according to John Casey Donegal shouldn’t bother turning up on Sunday”. Well, maybe they should have listened.
I travelled down from the game with Liam McHale and both of us were on a real high and ultra impressed by what we had just witnessed. Normally in a big game you hope to have 10 to 12 players performing well to try to squeeze you over the line. Last Sunday Mayo had 20 and a management team on top of their game which resulted in a demolition job on the very tired looking All–Ireland champions. Not one Mayo player played second fiddle to their opponents and Chris Barrett and Ger Cafferky were outstanding on Colm McFadden and Michael Murphy - two of the most dangerous forwards in the game.
Its 2pm on Monday and I’ve already watched the game twice since I returned from Dublin and it gets better and better every time and I may just watch it again this evening to rub it in to my wife Rita. Maybe Galway, Roscommon and London aren’t as bad as we think. This Mayo team were not able to score goals in the National League, only two in eight games, one by Keith Higgins against Tyrone and the other by Michael Conroy against last weekend’s opponents - now they can’t stop and could have had a few more if not for the brilliance of Paul Durcan. They have now scored 13 in four games.
Aidan O’Shea set the tone at midfield with a maestro performance ably assisted by his brother Seamus, but if you analyse the game closely Donal Vaughan along with O’Shea was the catalyst for everything good about Mayo’s near perfect performance. The decision to play Keith Higgins in the forward line worked a treat as Donegal weren’t able to cope with his work rate and angled running. I’m sure if you asked James Horan which was his favourite score of the game it may well be when Cillian O’Connor let Eamon McGee win the ball on the end line of the Davin Stand only to knock him around like a rag doll, dispossess him, play a neat one two with Kevin McLoughlin and sublimely finish low to the keeper’s right. If O’Connor tried to win that ball McGee may have tried to send him into the Davin Stand. It was very clever play by O’Connor and it set the tone for what was about to unfold.
Another very pleasing score that I’m sure had Donie Buckley and Horan purring was the brilliant sweeping move in the second half which Lee Keegan should have fisted over the bar only to be superbly saved by Paul Durcan; the rebound fell to Ryan McHugh. The way McHugh was engulfed by Andy Moran and Kevin McLoughlin and subsequently pulled for over carrying for an easy free was reminiscent of lions around a gazelle in the Serengeti - he wasn’t getting away.
Mayo’s game is all about pressure high up the field and it is reaping serious rewards. It is time now to keep our heads although it may be hard. Mayo had 13 different scorers and scored 4-15 from play against the meanest defence in the country.
Overnight Mayo have gone in to 11/10 favourites to win Sam Maguire (ahead of Dublin ), Aidan O’Shea is 9/4 favourite to win player of the year after being 33/1 the morning of the game and Cillian O’Connor is 1/7 favourite to be the top scorer in the championship despite being five points behind Cavan full forward Martin Dunne. Mickey Harte is licking his lips as his Tyrone team are being disregarded for a place in the final. It is time to be cautious but we can still be very optimistic.