Punters keep the faith with Mayo despite prospect of long-haul trek
They have won only three of 12 games in all competitions this year, survived in Division 1 thanks to a point deep in stoppage time in their last game and lost to Galway in the Connacht Championship for a third successive season, yet are still regarded as genuine All-Ireland contenders.
Cue Mayo, serial title close-callers, who are now facing a route that has yet to produce All-Ireland winners. Six All-Ireland titles have been secured via the qualifiers but none required four qualifier wins.
That's now Mayo's starting point as they seek to take their challenge into a three-game 'Super 8s' series.
It means that they would play at least nine more games to win the All-Ireland (they could possibly lose one 'Super 8s' tie and still reach the semi-finals) but despite that heavy work schedule, they are fourth favourites (10/1) behind Dublin (4/6), Kerry (9/2) and Galway 9/1 to take the title.
It underlines the faith that the wider public have in their ability to get their season back on track.
Tyrone (2008) were the only county to win the All-Ireland after failing to reach a provincial semi-final but the qualifiers were confined to three rounds as Division 4 counties were excluded at the time.
Mayo's recent successes in the qualifiers - they won three games in each of the last two years - have convinced their supporters that another summer relaunch is on the way, beginning against Limerick in the Gaelic Grounds on Saturday evening. It's the ideal start for Mayo, who had difficult times in each of their opening qualifier ties in MacHale Park in 2016 and last year.
Fermanagh troubled them for a long time two years ago while Derry took them to extra-time last July.
Limerick are much less well-equipped to test Mayo after losing to Clare by 12 points in the Munster quarter-final.
A relatively easy qualifier draw was exactly what Mayo wanted, especially after losing midfielder Tom Parsons for the season after he sustained a horrible injury against Galway.
Given their stroke of luck in the qualifier draw, it's virtually certain that Mayo will be in the second round draw against the beaten provincial semi-finalists.
Monaghan may be the only Division 1 team in that group, which is certain to feature two Division 4 teams (Leitrim and Carlow or Laois).
The eight Round 1 winners will be drawn against the following next Monday: Leitrim, Sligo, Clare, Tipperary, Monaghan, Dublin or Longford, Carlow or Laois, Down or Donegal.