Mayo searching for refuge at Everest base camp

Horans Men Launching the new Vintage Mayo Day Jersey. Mayo Senior Captain Diarmuid O’Connor, Vice Captain Paddy Durcan, James Horan Manager, Lee Keegan and David Drake on the shores of Lough Lannagh, castlebar, Co. Mayo. Pic: Michael Mc Laughlin

Many people think that Mayo vs Donegal in two weeks time will be the crunch match in this Super 8’s group. Given the psychology of this Mayo team I think that’s probably wrong.

Mayo play their fifth game in 4 weeks tomorrow. After the tonking they got in Fitzgerald Stadium last week it will be interesting to see how they respond. Win tomorrow and they’ll have a much needed two week break before a probable winner takes all decider against Donegal.

This Meath game has all the hallmark’s of last year’s game against Kildare. Mayo are kind of favorites but no-one is quite sure of why they are or indeed where they are. A familiar question abounds. Has fatigue finally caught up with them?

Not only from the last 5 weeks but from the last 5 years.

I’m not sure how you flush out a 10 point loss from the system in 7 days. Doubt must be order of the day in Mayo minds. On all evidence this year Mayo are only marginally better than the Meath’s of this world. The Armagh and Down wins have shown us that. The Galway victory hinted at more but Galway vs Mayo games are a law unto themselves. Kerry was to be the benchmark day to see where this Mayo team are at. Based on last Sunday’s performance Mayo are at the Galway races this year.

The thing about Mayo, especially in the Rochford era, was that they were a team that only reached an absolute peak once a year. Their best performances of both 2016 and 2017 were in the All-Ireland finals. Once they got within sniffing distance of the big day the upward trajectory of their performances was there for all to see. The question now is do they have an absolute peak left in them? And will just the one suffice?

Therein lies the problem. This team are barely on the scent of a final at the moment. Some bookies are giving odds of 30/1 for Mayo to win the All Ireland. If Mayo make it to the All Ireland this year it will be their 10th game (without any draws). Tomorrow is Game 7. The mentality should be to treat tomorrow as the end of Stage 1 of the championship. The psychology of this Mayo team is that they are much more likely to lose against Meath than they are in the subsequent game against Donegal ( if they do win tomorrow).

Dublin won a handy All Ireland last year. Great teams often do. While handy All-Ireland’s are nice to have gift wrapped to you, it’s not brilliant for a team’s development. Last year they were never forced to hit top gear. Dublin 2019 are not proven to be as good as Dublin 2017. I suspect they are not. I think the only one to recognise this is Jim Gavin.

This year there are several enemies at the gate. Kerry, Donegal and Tyrone (in that order) will all fancy another rattle at them. The chances are greater that at least one team are gonna make them work for the Sam Maguire in 2019. I think this, in part, is why Jim Gavin has brought Diarmuid Connolly back into the fold. It is fair to say that Mayo as of today, July 20th, are not a blip on Gavin’s or anyone else’s radar.

In the 5 years that Dublin have been on this march only one team has put it up to them though. Physically, mentally and emotionally. Mayo.

With 8 weeks left in the championship that’s all Mayo need to keep reminding themselves of. Their best is proven in the white heat of battle. Nobody else’s is.

It is interesting to take a look back at the named Mayo team for the 2017 All-Ireland final. Mayo are still heavily influenced by the guts of that team. But for long term injury to Tom Parson’s and Diarmuid O’Connor the composition of Mayo’s team would be even more skewed towards that line up. Two massive losses with one massive gain. Darren Coen.

1. David Clarke (Ballina Stephenites)

2. Brendan Harrison (Aghamore)

3. Donal Vaughan (Ballinrobe)

4. Keith Higgins (Ballyhaunis)

5. Lee Keegan (Westport)

6. Chris Barrett (Belmullet)

7. Colm Boyle (Davitts)

8. Seamus O’Shea (Breaffy)

9. Tom Parsons (Charlestown)

10. Kevin McLoughlin (Knockmore)

11. Aidan O’Shea (Breaffy)

12. Diarmuid O’Connor (Ballintubber) ( Patrick Durkan started)

13. Jason Doherty (Burrishoole)

14. Cillian O’Connor (Ballintubber, captain)

15. Andy Moran (Ballaghaderreen)

There is no-one in the above line up, who is fit, that can’t peak again for the next 8 weeks. Tomorrow will tell us all we need to know about Mayo this year. Either they lose a tight game and are out or they win big. If they win big the odds of Mayo seeing a final will tumble.

A win tomorrow get’s Mayo back to Everest base camp where they can take a short breather, before plotting a new course on that familiar climb – one where all their ghosts lie.

The present moment is about reminding themselves that no-one deals with the altitude better.

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