Okay: I’ve had the full day to let it all sink in, while sorting out stuff back here at home after the fortnight away. Lots of grass to cut, so much so that I felt I should have been using a forage harvester and not a lawnmower on it – boy, it really has been raining round here these past two weeks, hasn’t it? Plenty of time, in other words, in which to ruminate about yesterday’s proceedings at McHale Park.
There’s lots of comment and analysis out there at this stage on the match, both here and in places such as gaaboard.com, mayofans.com and Hogan Stand. An Spailpin also provides his usual cogent thoughts on the game and it’s great to see No One Shouted Stop! back again in action too.
Like most other Mayo followers, I was well pissed off leaving Castlebar yesterday and most of my dark mutterings chimed with many of the comments made on the discussion boards today. In broad brush terms, what really stuck in my mind was the fact that it’s now two years into the Second Coming – which many of us thought would finally see us landing Sam – and we still can’t even win the Connacht title. This wasn’t meant to be how the Progidal Son’s second stint in the Bainisteoir’s bib would work out.
But now is not the time for us to be overly critical about Johnno and the championship team he is still quite obviously attempting to put together – Lord knows, there’ll be time enough to kick over the traces once we’re out of the race. The simple fact is that we’re still in the championship, still at the same point we were at before the ball was thrown in yesterday because, like then, we still need to win one game to reach the All-Ireland quarter-final.
This means that, three weeks from now, we face a game of equal importance to the Connacht final, though, given the insane championship structure we operate under, we won’t learn who our opponents will be in this shit-or-bust match till a week before the game. But if we win this showdown, we’re back in the hat at the business end of the championship for the first time since 2006.
We all know that our appetite for the qualifiers isn’t all that great but the situation we face this year is very different to twelve months ago, where we got dumped out of Connacht much earlier and so, after an inordinantly long lay-off, were faced with having to battle through three qualifier rounds to reach the All-Ireland series. This year we’ve only one match in the qualifiers and the last time we were beaten in the Connacht final – in 2005 – we used this route successfully to reach the All-Ireland quarter-final.
Sure, there are all manner of big beasts in the qualifiers this year but only four of them will be left in the draw to face the four beaten provincial finalists. Who we get will, literally, be the luck of the draw and, until the first two rounds of the qualifiers are played off, there’s little point in speculating about who our opponents will be. Personally, I’d favour a tough draw because there’s little merit in clearing a small hurdle just to reach the quarter-finals. We did this (having had to play three qualifier rounds) in 2002 and we were embarrassingly poor against Cork in the quarter-final. We got another soft draw (against Cavan) in 2005 and, while we redeemed ourselves somewhat against Kerry in that year’s quarter-final, we were still well beaten.
I’d prefer to see us having to earn our place in this year’s All-Ireland series and so would be hoping for the likes of Tyrone, Meath or Derry or someone of that ilk. If we can beat one of them, then we’ll know we’re in the quarter-finals on merit, with the added benefit of having come through an additional hard match. Had we won yesterday, we’d still be clapping ourselves on the backs and telling each other what great lads we are but we wouldn’t have had that extra match to bring us on. That’s why I feel Galway will, once again, fail to make it past the quarter-finals this year. We mightn’t even get that far but, if we do, I’d fancy our chances to go further than they do. In that respect, the glass is certainly half full, for now at least.