After blitzing their way through Connacht without much fuss the first test of Mayo's credentials from a side outside Connacht will come tomorrow when they square up against Donegal in Croke Park. Mayo joint managers, Noel Connelly and Pat Holmes, announced their starting 15 for the showdown on Tuesday this week, much earlier than they have done for their two other championship games, and the starting line-up showed no changes from the one that started against Sligo in the provincial decider.
Standing in their way is a Donegal side who were beaten in the Ulster final for a second time in three years by Monaghan and looked sheepish in the first-half of their win over Galway last weekend in headquarters, but the display of Rory Gallagher's men in the second half of that game will have given Messrs Holmes and Connelly plenty of food for thought over the last number of days.
The big battle on the field is expected to be between two men who are both expected to occupy the full-forward berth, with Aidan O'Shea's performances on the edge of the square garnering plenty of critical acclaim so far this season, while at the other end Michael Murphy is arguably the most complete footballer in the game at the minute. He gave Mayo plenty of nightmares in the 2012 All Ireland final and his ability in that position or further out the field is well known. While both sides could opt to bomb the ball in long on top of each of their big men, both management teams will surely have been working on a more sophisticated attacking plan to catch their opponents off guard rather than just going route one.
How the Mayo full back line copes with Murphy or Colm McFadden if he is deployed in the inside line early on will be an area that will get a lot of scrutiny. Mayo struggled in the full back line against Sligo at times, and how the expected back three of Ger Cafferkey, Keith Higgins, and Tom Cunniffe handle the Donegal full-forward line. While if Donegal try to crowd out O'Shea inside it should create space for Cillian O'Connor and Andy Moran alongside him. In the middle of the park the Mayo pairing of Seamus O'Shea and Tom Parsons will have to get to grips early on with Neil Gallagher and whoever Rory Gallagher pairs him with in this vital sector, while the Mayo half-back-line will be on their toes to stop the swarming Donegal attacks from deep.
Looking back on their win in the Connacht final last week, Noel Connelly said he knew there were still lots of areas for his side to work on in the build up to tomorrow's game. "From our point of view we'd assess it that the boys played well, they were really up for the game. They played for 70 minutes, but what we wouldn't be happy with maybe is that we conceded 2-11, that would win most championship games, and from that point of view we focused on it a lot in the weekend's training session just gone by. But look, we thought it would be a lot tougher game, the chances came and we took them."