Bulldog spirit puts Boyle at centre of Mayo's ambitions
If Colm Boyle was showing any ill effects from the virus that forced him out for most of last year's semi-final win over Dublin and subsequently saw him hospitalised prior to the All-Ireland final, he showed none of it in the opening minutes against Donegal.
Crashing into and upending Karl Lacey with a ferocious hit in the seventh minute would have helped to inform his manager James Horan that normal service had resumed.
By the 35th minute, he had felled Michael Murphy with a high challenge, underlining again how his renowned appetite for physical contact had not been diminished in any way by the fragmented nature of his preparations.
"A very courageous guy," remarked Horan. "A week before the All-Ireland final, he was in hospital for a while, so it just shows you the level of commitment he has and what he is prepared to do for the team."
Boyle has endeared himself to the Mayo support over the last two seasons with the ferocity of his combat.
In terms of height, only Chris Barrett is listed as smaller (5' 8" to Boyle's 5' 9") on the starting team. Keith Higgins (12st) and Alan Dillon (12st 2lbs) tip the scales lighter than Boyle's 12st 8lbs, but within the relative dimensions of that frame, no one packs a harder punch.
"Maybe it's always been in me, but it's maybe one of the aspects I've been working on, to get stronger."
His lack of inches is something he never dwells on.
"It's something I never really think about. If you're willing to put yourself about and get on ball and make a few tackles, it can make up for not being 6' 3."
In tandem with fellow wing-back Lee Keegan, they were the drivers behind Mayo's recovery in last year's final after David Clarke's great save from Colm McFadden to prevent a third goal.
It's Boyle's second coming as an inter-county footballer. An All-Ireland U-21 winner in 2006, he was involved in John O'Mahony's second year in 2008, but drifted off the scene after that as fitness issues and a placement in Templemore Garda College impacted on his ability to commit.
"I was 21 at the time and, physically and mentally, I was at a different place than I am now. I've worked hard since then and am enjoying it," he said.
"The plan was just to get back playing good football, which I probably hadn't done in a couple of years, and it developed from there. It was always in the back of my mind to get back here with the senior team."
Boyle admitted he initially allowed outside influences to dictate to him too often.
"When I was younger, I was probably a bit more conscious of what people thought of me. Maybe I might have benn listening to too much talk from supporters.
"But it just goes in one ear and out the other now. I'm just not bothered. If I can do a small job for the team, that's all I'm concentrating on doing and I'm not bothered what other people think."
It was the springboard provided by his club Davitt's that refloated his career as they reached the All-Ireland intermediate club final in 2012.
A garda based in Clifden, the progress made by Davitt's was also the shop window for Michael Conroy's return after a lengthy absence – the pair share an apartment in Claremorris where another club-mate Aidan McTigue, a member of the London panel who opposed to Mayo in this year's Connacht final, also resides.
In Boyle's first game back, he made a last-ditch save off the line to ensure a Mayo victory at the Athletic Grounds against Armagh and, since then, he has been almost an ever-present, starting 21 of the 22 games in league and championship, the exception being the All-Ireland semi-final against Dublin.
He has scored 1-7, including a goal against Kerry in the 2012 league semi-final, with three points coming this season as part of the 2-17 contributed from defenders in the five championship games.
"To be able to do that, you have to have good footballers like Chrissy (Barrett) doing that – coming up from corner-back to get a score.
"We have lads who can come from anywhere to do that. We try to attack from anywhere, as long as someone is holding.
"It's something we've worked on. To be able to do that doesn't just come, you've got to work on it. You need a bit of extra physical fitness to be able to do that," he acknowledged.
Losing to Donegal last year provided him with mixed emotions.
"It was a strange feeling, the massive disappointment against the feeling that we'll be back again. Everyone was resigned to the fact that we were going to do the work to get back there again," said Boyle.
"It's very easy to say you'll do the work but we followed up on that and now we're looking to do what we didn't do last year.
"It would have been eating away at you, but it didn't stop us from getting back to work quickly.
"If that can't motivate you to get out on a November evening, then nothing would. It was that quick."
September hasn't been long coming around.