It was an amazing championship in many ways as Mayo almost fell at the first hurdle in London. They went on to defeat Galway in the semi-final and Roscommon in the Connaught final before taking out Cork but then crashing to Kerry in the All-Ireland semi-final.
This year Mayo’s run is totally different. After just two steps they find themselves peering over the wall and into Croke Park and maybe wondering just how easy the road has been so far, Leitrim crumbling in the second half and Sligo eventually succumbing to Mayo’s mental strength, the arrival of Aiden O’S’hea providing the vital push to carry them over the winning line in the Connaught final.
The heading on our Connaught final report mentioned the word ‘ugly’ and it just about sums up Mayo’s display in that final.
Maybe the nice boys of Gaelic football are beginning to show a mean streak for in truth they have tended to turn the other cheek and when the big day demanded the big performance Mayo always seemed to come up short.
Is this year any different? Yes and no. There have been no significant signs that the team is any better than the odds of 12/1 being quoted for their All-Ireland chances.
But, as Mayo manager James Horan keeps telling us ‘we are in the place we want to be,’ and although behind Kerry, Cork, Dublin, Donegal and Kildare in the pecking order as All-Ireland contenders, the Connaught champions have yet to find the kind of performance we believe, and indeed hope, they have in them.
Essential they are unproven and untested but have the classis school report:
Has ability. Capable of doing a lot more. Must study harder.
So far they have been able to get away with making it up as they go along as no clear pattern has really emerged in their two games with the exception of the Connaught final where they dished out a fair bit and soaked up a good bit of punishment. Not pretty but effective.
Now the serious end of the business is at hand and Mayo, having played only those two games, must be regarded as the freshest team remaining in championship 2012.
That may come into play when their opponents are known for the quarterfinals but unless James Horan can get a better return from his attack a lot of the good work at midfield and at the back will be wasted.
A few players left Hyde Park having failed to produce the goods and empty the can, and we can only hope they have left it for another day.
The 2012 championship remains wide open. Whether Mayo play a part next September is very much down to whether they can improve sufficiently to take on the bigger guns.
So far the indications from Mayo have been encouraging rather than compelling but they have had a long break since the Connaught final and while a number of teams in this year’s championship have had to make a number of pit-stops to change the tyres and refuel, Mayo have been fuel-efficient and have burned up very little rubber by keeping out of trouble, taking the bends on four rather than two wheels.
However, a collision now is inevitable as the course begins to narrow and the difficult chicanes have to be negotiated.
This weekend will tell us if Mayo are running out of road or have they been able to build up momentum by coming with a run from well back in the pack.
My own gut feeling is there is another tune at least in Mayo, and sure after that who knows!
Back door, front door - how Mayo have fared
Since the backdoor was introduced in 2001 Mayo have won four provincial titles - 2012, 2011, 2006 and 2004.
They have done much better through the front rather than the back door, reaching the final in both 2006 and 2004, while last year they reached the semi-final.
Significantly Kerry have beaten them on all three attempts, twice in the final.
They have had some bad years too since it’ introduction, 2011 being a particularly bad year when they went out to Longford in the first round after losing to Sligo in Connaught, while they also crashed to Westmeath (2001) and Fermanagh (2003) at the first hurdle.
*Indicates the year Mayo won the Connaught title.
Quarterfinal: Mayo 1-13 Cork 2-6
Semi-final: Kerry 1-20 Mayo 1-11
Round 1: Longford 1-12 Mayo 0-14
Quarterfinal: Meath 2-15 Mayo 1-15
Round 3: Tyrone 0-13 Mayo 1-9
Round 1 Mayo1-19 Cavan 3-7
Round 2: Derry 2-13 Mayo 1-6
Quarterfinal: Laois 0-15 Mayo 0-15
Replay Mayo: 0-14 Laois 0-11
Semi-final: Mayo1-16 Dublin 2-12
Final: Kerry 4-15 Mayo 3-5
Round 4: Mayo 0-14 Cavan 0-8
Quarterfinals: Kerry 2-15 Mayo 0-18
Quarterfinal: Mayo 0-16 Tyrone 1-9
Semi-final: Fermanagh 0-9 Mayo 0-9
Replay: Mayo 0-13 Fermanagh 1-8
Final: Kerry 1-20 Mayo 2-9
Round 4: Fermanagh 0-12 Mayo 1-8
Round 2: Mayo 0-20 Roscommon 2-8
Round 3: Mayo 0-13 Limerick 1-9
Round 4: Mayo 0-21 Tipperary 1-14
Quarterfinal: Cork 0-16 Mayo 1-10
Round 4: Westmeath 1-14 Mayo 0-16