ANDY MORAN has harked back to a crazy league game against Dublin – more than two years ago – as a watershed moment in the evolution of James Horan's mean Mayo machine.
That was the day Mayo lost by 4-15 to 3-13 in a surreal Croke Park scorefest, trailing by 14 points at one stage in the first half, battling back to parity by the 45th minute but then falling away to lose by five.
Ever since then, according to Moran, Mayo forwards have become the first line of defence with a hard-tackling approach that attempts to suffocate opponents before they can build up any momentum.
This was palpably apparent during the first half of last Sunday's Connacht SFC cakewalk against a surprisingly ill-prepared Galway, who coughed up numerous turnovers deep in their own half with disastrous consequences.
By the time a fit-again Moran took the field just after the hour, marking his inter-county comeback from last year's cruciate injury with a wildly celebrated goal, the sting had long since gone out of this lopsided contest.
But earlier, looking on from the bench in Pearse Stadium, he was struck by the intensity of his fellow forwards – and how it starkly contrasted with their 'non-tackling' demeanour against the Dubs during Horan's inaugural spring campaign.
The influence of new coach Donie Buckley has been touted as a key factor in all this, but last year's captain reckons it goes back even further.
"If you remember a game in 2011 against Dublin in the league, they annihilated us in the first half," he recalled.
"I think that was our mantra from then on because, when you get to the likes of Croke Park, you can't defend six-on-six. Your forwards need to be working harder than your defence, and that's what we've been doing ever since that day.
"Donie has helped us – I said last week that Donie has been a massive influence around the place. We had a great trainer last year in Cian (O'Neill), but Donie has come in and really lifted it again."
He also praised the active encouragement proffered by Alan Dillon as the long-serving forward duo battled back from their own respective injury travails this season.
While Moran has been on the rehab trail since tearing his ACL against Down last August, Dillon has missed almost as much football with a long-term groin issue.
His 11th hour call-up against Galway constituted a first Mayo start since last year's All-Ireland final against Donegal, only interrupted by a late cameo appearance against Tyrone back in February.
"It was great to see 'Dillo' back, if you see what he has been through," Moran stressed. "I suppose I made the headlines for being the one that was on telly, but he has been the one that drove me on for the last six months.
"To see him starting a game today was inspirational. He led from the top and everyone followed on from that."
As for his own Mayo comeback, Moran explained: "I played an As versus Bs game last week and I was involved in training the last two weeks. That's the return-to-play protocol."
He rejected any impression that he only came on because the game was effectively over, adding: "I was definitely coming on – that was in the 'return-to-play' for me; to get on at any stage. I thought I would only get on when we were in trouble, to be honest with you, so it was great to come on in that position."
But the Ballaghaderreen clubman confessed to being "a bit embarrassed" by his jubilant reaction to nailing that 70th minute goal.
"I celebrated like I won the World Cup!" he quipped. "It was a great feeling. The physio team and Ed Coughlan and these guys have been great to me."
According to Moran, Mayo had always pencilled in May 19 as a pivotal date in their 2013 calendar.
"Our training regime was to peak for this game," he explained. "When you go out you always try to win, but we wanted to peak today and our training was aimed at that since we came back from Miami in January."