So, we got what we wished for – a clear majority of those who responded to the poll running here on the site during the week plumped for Donegal and it was our nemesis from last September that we ended up with when the draw was made earlier on this evening. Whether it’s a good draw or a bad draw for us is pretty much irrelevant at this stage: it’s the only draw we’ve got and now we’ve got to deal with it.
The only way for Mayo supporters to focus on this match, I reckon, is to telescope ourselves back to last year’s All-Ireland. Donegal beat us in so many ways that day – on the scoreboard, tactically, physically (especially when they crossed the line) and, perhaps most painfully of all, numerically and vocally on the terraces. Their supporters came to Croke Park that day exuding confidence about their ability to win, as if the outcome had been somehow pre-destined, and we never matched them in terms of the noise and colour they brought to the occasion. For me, that was the biggest defeat of all.
But last September was also the genesis of this championship campaign. The defiant air in the Regency the night of the final was so uplifting and it was clear even then that we were going to make another almighty push for honours in 2013. This was no empty “We’ll be back!” rhetoric and it was instead a clear statement of intent. The swathe we’ve cut through Connacht this summer has provided the first tangible evidence that we are, indeed, ready to compete with the best once more this year but the quarter-final draw we’ve been handed now puts it up to us in no uncertain terms.
Common consensus would say that we’ve improved since last year while Donegal, burdened with injuries in a way they somehow managed to avoid last year and facing into a third championship clash in as many weeks, may not be the same force of nature that they were last September. This is reflected in the match odds – Donegal were 1/2 favourites going into last year’s final whereas we’re 4/6 with Paddy Power to prevail next weekend.
Common consensus is, however, of little relevance to next weekend’s showdown. This is do-or-die for both teams and like any defending champions we can be damned sure that Jimmy McGuinness and his team will not give way without first expending every ounce of energy they have to retain their crown. Sure, it helps that we’ve developed a good track record under James Horan of taking down reigning champions – if we do a number on Donegal next weekend, that’ll be another three-in-a-row for us, having disposed of Cork in 2011 and Dublin last year – but we’re going to have be pretty much pitch perfect the next day if we’re to achieve this particular treble.
We know from our own direct experience of playing them last September what we need to do to beat them (and, in this respect, we absolutely have to avoid conceding any early goals to them this time) and there’s also much we can learn from Monaghan’s template in doing so last Sunday. What I’d love to see us do is open up on them the way we did so mercilessly against Galway by hitting them with the most ferocious intensity we can muster and racking up as many scores as we’re capable of. As Monaghan showed last Sunday, an ultra-defensive approach is no good to them when they’re chasing the game so we need to do what we can to put them in exactly the same position that the Farneymen had them.
James and his colleagues will, of course, already be hard at work plotting and planning for next weekend and I’m sure the players too will be itching for the chance that this tie offers to even the score against last September’s conquerors. Revenge is a dish best eaten cold and all that. As supporters, we should be equally up for this one and that means getting there in numbers with as much colour as possible and ready to make as much noise as possible.
For a variety of reasons, last year’s contest between us was theirs but over the coming week we need to adopt the firm resolve that this one is most definitely going to be ours. We shouldn’t countenance defeat going into this game and when the day comes, all of us – team, backroom and supporters – need to play our part to get us over the line. It’s a huge challenge but it’s a great opportunity for us to take a decisive step towards another All-Ireland final appearance. It’s an opportunity we simply have to grasp with both hands. Can we do it? Too bloody right we can.