A week on and around the dinner table this evening the discussion was still about the short spell a week ago when it appeared Meath might, just might, rock the football world.
Alas it wasn’t to be, but as one national media outlet put it in the aftermath of the match that Meath’s valiant effort offered hope to the masses that Goliath may in fact be slayable. You sense that the two teams who won today’s games stand the best chance of halting the runaway train.
However, where things might differ from what would be the expected script is that this time around what is a new look Mayo team could actually head into the last four a little under the radar though at the same time viable dark horses.
Having been festooned with a plethora of retirements after last year’s Championship, the train of thought which suggested that James Horan’s side would need to go through a period of transition. Ironically, the man who spoke out most against that theory – Cillian O’Connor – may in fact be one of the main reasons that transition of players is brought into much sharper focus. By his absence, that is.
The exceptional Ballintubber player was sidelined earlier in the season with a serious injury, others have had to step forward and almost make themselves the fulcrum of a fairly new-look ensemble. Yes, redoubtable warriors such as Lee Keegan, Paddy Durcan, Aidan O’Shea and Diarmuid O’Connor remain gallant and feisty but even they would surely admit the troop needed augmentation. And it has most certainly attained same in the guise of the likes of Oisin Mullen, Padraig O’Hora, Matthew Ruane, Tommie Conroy and, perhaps in particular, Ryan O’Donoghue (pictured above).
With the greatest due respect to Sligo, Leitrim and may more like them, feelings about how they are being mistreated by the inequity of the current Championship system were made clear in this space not so long ago. Be that as it may, from a Mayo perspective, their circumnavigation represented only the completion of business. Also from the victor’s viewpoint though, it meant that they hadn’t been given a stern examination before the weekend’s Connacht Final at Croke Park.
In the early stages thereof mind you, they most certainly were tested, sternly. Because Padraic Joyce’s team beautifully employed the style of football synonymous with the city of the tribes over the years – putting fast, low ball into what tend to be very gifted attackers. Early on, it was working a treat too, as both Shane Walsh and the bustling Damien Comer blasted crackers past Rob Hennelly.
For some reason best and possibly only known to them, they dispensed with that ploy after the break. Well, partially that but more so the fact that their opponents ratcheted up their output considerably in the second half. Driven in particular by the younger brigade. One of the biggest boons of having a young team is that they know no fear. Playing with a sense of abandon and adventure that has got them this far. And gut feeling is they might not be done yet.
There were a couple of reasons the green and red were termed ‘dark horses’ in this piece. For one thing, it would surely be foolhardy to write Dublin off as a spent force jus yet. Even though it has become obvious that the nuts on a few of the wheels of the wagon have definitely become loosened. Of greatest significance, though, is the ominously brilliant manner in which Kerry have strode through the season thus far.
In some ways, Peter Keane and his players are on a constant hiding to nothing. Owing to the level of underage success The Kingdom have garnered in more recent years, they are nearly expected to win, and when they do it is explained away as such. The flip side to all of the above, of course, is that there’s nothing guaranteed, as best evidenced by the manner in which Cork walloped them with a sucker punch last year.
Now, I’m not old enough to remember 1975 when Mick O’Dwyer brought an explosive young team to Croke Park and ended up making the Gaelic football world their own, but I’ve seen enough on video and read enough about the era dominated by themselves and Dublin to see shadows of those days in what both teams are doing presently.
I say both because while Dublin have had an unbreakable stranglehold on the game for the last decade, there has definitely been an air of ’75 about how Keane’s crew have gone up through the gears during the season.
Whether it will be enough to see them emulate the heroes of yesteryear remains to be seen but the entertainment and enjoyment for the rest of us will be seeing how it all plays out.