Never a dull moment with Mayo as Horan welcomes break before Donegal clash
If ever a team was incapable of doing things the easy way, it has to be Mayo. In a world where attention spans are getting shorter and shorter and it demands more to entertain people, Mayo never fail to deliver in terms of drama.
For all Meath's endeavour, Mayo should have been out of sight and had seven straight shots before the break which were either blocked, dropped short or kicked wide. That handed the Royals a lifeline and they kicked on to go two ahead by the 46th minute.
Cillian O'Sullivan then had a glorious chance to put them three ahead but inexplicably skewed wide from close range, and a Mayo side which looked like they were on their last legs was stirred to life as they sensed their summer could be coming to a premature end.
Andy Moran's half-time introduction provided the cool head when the need was greatest in the home straight. The efficiency in possession of the 2017 Footballer of the Year helped to see them over the line, although the scoreboard and their nine-point winning margin flattered them.
James Horan went through every emotion possible during his first stint at the Mayo helm and little has changed during his second term. What he would give just to get business done with the minimum of fuss for once.
"We need to be compelling, man! That's what keeps us all going, isn't it?! There's a number of ways to win a game. The odd boring shi**y one would be fine as well. As long as we keep plugging away I'm happy enough," a relieved Horan said.
Last week they left Killarney truly and utterly deflated after a ten-point hammering against Kerry, but their fortunes can turn faster than most sides and Horan insists it left no lingering doubts heading to GAA HQ yesterday with their season at stake.
"It seems ages ago. It was a long bus journey up after the game. That probably helped, with everyone on it. By the time we got off the bus we'd pretty much forgotten about it. It's a real skill to be able to do that but very quickly we moved on."
Their destiny is now in their own hands and it's unusually straight forward when they welcome Donegal to Castlebar for their final Super 8s clash, as victory will see them through to the All-Ireland semi-finals.
It has been yet another long road through the backdoor and after playing five weeks on the trot, Horan is relishing the opportunity to take a breath and put everything in place to give them the best possible chance against Donegal in two weeks' time.
"It's hugely important. The last five or six weeks we've just had one session a week and it's really just maintenance. There's not a lot you can do, we were travelling and we were both ends of the country. It's good now to be able to plan the lead-in to a game," Horan said.
With Aidan O'Shea picking up a wrist injury yesterday as well as Keith Higgins being withdrawn before throw-in - "we couldn't risk him on medical advice" - a break gives time for bodies to recover with captain Diarmuid O'Connor, midfielder Matthew Ruane and Paddy Durcan in with a chance to feature the next day.
"It's tight but it's looking positive, a lot can happen in two weeks," was Horan's assessment of the latter trio playing a part. When it comes to Mayo, a lot can happen in 70 minutes, let alone a fortnight, but they are in with a fighting chance.
For Meath counterpart Andy McEntee, it's another missed opportunity after rocking Donegal last week. They weren't efficient enough in front of the posts when they smelled Mayo blood.
With Donal Keogan and Bryan Menton proving their class, Meath had the red-hot favourites on the ropes but execution let them down at vital stages, something McEntee feels will come in time.
"I thought they were creeking at that stage (in the third quarter). They'd gone up the field a couple of times and we had turned them over nicely and we had chances to go three and four points up," he said.
"Maybe we just got a little bit tight when we saw the finishing line, they weren't difficult chances, you'd expect fellas to get them but it is hard work out there. Maybe mental fatigue as much as physical fatigue sets in at that stage.
"We probably had more of the ball than we did last week but at vital stages we didn't execute properly. We've made progress but it's a pretty tough learning place and we've got to go and get better.
"Maybe it's experience, there's a lot of young fellas on the field," McEntee added. "There were a lot of lads that were sub-24 out there at the end and maybe you have to go through this learning experience to get out the other side.
"What I do know is we have to be better for longer. That's us done and dusted as regards competition. But as regards performance, we have another game and fellas will be looking forward to playing another game of that standard."