'When we need to win we stand up' - Mayo send out warning to rivals
Mayo 1-19 Kildare 1-12 - Allianz Football League Div 1
It seems like an annual debate - can Mayo keep churning out results when the pressure is on? When they were forced to the well against Kildare yesterday with their Division 1 place in jeopardy, it overflowed.
Quenching talk of an early-season crisis is commonplace for Stephen Rochford's squad and it was the usual suspects who delivered when the need was the greatest, with Lee Keegan, Footballer of the Year Andy Moran and Aidan O'Shea excelling.
They were in another perilous position when Daniel Flynn fired a fine solo goal past Rob Hennelly to send the Lilywhites into a 1-4 to 0-5 lead midway through the first half in St Conleth's Park, but the danger was quickly averted.
O'Shea's palmed goal on the stroke of half-time following neat interplay between Keegan and Moran spearheaded a second-quarter surge which yielded 1-4 without reply. It turned a two-point deficit into a five-point lead at the break, 1-9 to 1-4.
From then on it was one-way traffic and had it not been for the heroics of Kildare goalkeeper Mark Donnellan, they could have hit the net at least another three times, but their score difference still took a healthy turn, with important games against fellow relegation strugglers Tyrone and Donegal to come.
"It's not on purpose anyway that we're putting ourselves in this position," attacker Jason Doherty said afterwards. "But there is a level at when we really, really have to get the wins that we stand up and do it. There's pros and cons to that. We shouldn't have put ourselves in that position, but when we have to stand up we generally get the results at the end of the league and this year is no different."
Geography is also a boundary, particularly at this stage of the year when up to 18 of their panel are based over three hours away in Dublin, so slow starts to the league are to be expected with reduced collective sessions.
"Weekly travel means that you don't always have everybody together, but as the year goes on we tend to do more of that together. It's not ideal, we do the best we can, there's a good crew of us in Dublin to get a good session when we have to," Doherty said.
"You're nearly immune to the travel, you don't bat an eyelid to it, work are sound so I can't complain. Ideally we'd have 35 lads travelling 15 minutes to training, but that's not how it works."
It may be a case of 'different year, same old Mayo', but there are some subtle changes, with new faces being sprinkled into the fold. Over-reliance on their marquee names has long been seen as a reason why Sam Maguire hasn't returned since 1951, but Rochford will have learned a lot already in 2018.
Stephen Coen - captain of All-Ireland minor and U-21-winning sides in recent years - looks primed to take a berth in defence and can develop into a new leader after serving a fine apprenticeship, while Caolan Crowe is a solid if unspectacular addition at the back, a tight man-marker.
Eoin O'Donoghue is a ball of energy and strode forward to kick a point, while Adam Gallagher - who shone for NUI Galway in their Sigerson Cup run - and Conor Loftus could help alleviate the scoring burden on Moran and captain Cillian O'Connor.
For Kildare - who rued eight first-half wides when in contention - it was a fifth successive defeat (in front of 6,000 spectators) and they are consigned to relegation, but this loss stung manager Cian O'Neill more than any other.
His side failed to adapt to a Mayo system change - moving 13 men behind the ball at times - after the first quarter, with Daniel Flynn denied the space needed to operate effectively at full-forward and Kevin Feely's aerial threat at midfield quelled by the returning Tom Parsons and O'Shea.
"The most disappointing thing about today... in every one of the four matches to date with the exception of the 15-minute systems failure against Dublin, we were competitive, we were fighting, we were battling for every ball," the former Mayo coach said.
"We gave up the battle in the second-half, it looked that way anyway and we didn't fight till the very end. This will be the biggest challenge for us as a group coming back from, if you want to call it a collapse in the second-half, that's going to test us.
"We've no bad luck story to fall on to here, we were comprehensively beaten all over the pitch by a better team and we didn't fight till the end and that's the real disappointment, but that's team sport.
"We either get up and fight or we lie down and feel sorry for ourselves and we're definitely not doing the latter."
Scorers - Mayo: C O'Connor 0-4 (3f), A O'Shea 1-1; A Moran 0-3; Diarmuid O'Connor, R Hennelly (2f), C Loftus (1f) and A Gallagher 0-2 each; J Doherty, E O'Donoghue and K McLoughlin 0-1 each.
Kildare: K Feely 0-5 (4f), D Flynn 1-0, K Flynn 0-2, P Brophy, N Kelly, F Dowling, F Conway, B McCormack 0-1 each.
Mayo - R Kennelly 7; C Crowe 7, G Cafferkey 7, E O'Donoghue 7; C Boyle 7, L Keegan 7, S Coen 8; T Parsons 7, A O'Shea 8; D O'Connor 7, A Gallagher 7, K McLoughlin 7; A Moran 8, C O'Connor 7, J Doherty 7. Subs: S O'Shea 7 for Parsons (47), C Loftus 7 for Gallagher (52), F Boland 6 for Doherty (62), D Drake for D O'Connor and B Moran for C O'Connor (both 69), S Nally for Boyle (71).
Kildare - M Donnellan 8; P Kelly 6, D Hyland 6, M O'Grady 7; C O'Donoghue 6, E Doyle 6, K Flynn 8; K Feely 7, T Moolick 6; F Conway 6, N Kelly 7, K Cribbin 6; D Slattery 6, D Flynn 7, P Brophy 6. Subs: B McCormack 7 for Slattery (45), J Byrne 6 for K Cribbin (47), P Cribbin 6 for Brophy (52), F Dowling 7 for Moolick (54), C Healy 6 for Conway (56), J Hyland 6 for K Flynn (59).
Ref - M McNally (Monaghan)