Will Saturday night in Castlebar become Harte's Last Stand with Derry?

WHEN MARTIN MCNALLY brought the whole broiling scene to a close at Dr Hyde Park, the reactions said it all.

On the far side of the pitch to the management teams, Mayo’s wing-forwards Jordan Flynn and Tommy Conroy were devastated.

Flynn was lying on the ground, knees and head against the turf with his hands over his head.

Conroy was 20 metres away from him, slumped over with his hands on his knees, exhausted and distraught.

But within seconds, he had to snap out of it. Two dozen children were already upon him. In another two seconds, they were surrounding Flynn, urging him to get up onto his feet for selfies and pester him for his gloves.

In the aftermath of the game, the Dublin players got to experience that of which is a familiar post-championship match feeling to players all over the country: children meeting their heroes.

It’s a lovely expression of exuberance, not always appreciated by everyone. Immediately after Donegal beat Tyrone in the first group game, Donegal management were exhorting their players to get off the field and soon after, they were spirited away for a recovery session at their fortified Convoy training base.

To be in the moment, though, has to raise the spirits and give an energy.

The Mayo effort expended was absolute and total. It was a draw that felt like a defeat. What you do with that afterwards is all about framing.

Manager Kevin McStay didn’t try to sell any magic beans, but in stating the bottom line, he also then immediately turned to positivity and injecting some energy.

“The draw gets us nowhere. We went for the win. I hope it looked to everybody that we were trying to win it and we gave it a great shot,” he said.

“We’d like to think we died for the cause today and Mayo people will say they are worth following and worth supporting and we get a big crowd out.”

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It’s fair to ask the question all the same: did Mayo really get nothing out of it? Sure, by winning the head-to-head against Roscommon a fortnight previous they were already guaranteed a home tie for the preliminary quarter-final.

But there’s more to it than the bottom line. They had a crack at the Dubs. They added to the canon of contests between these two. It allowed the likes of Jack Carney and Rory Brickenden another experience of coming up against the very best.

will saturday night in castlebar become harte's last stand with derry?

It produced the marking job Donnacha McHugh did on Brian Fenton. It brought the best out of Aidan O’Shea in this fixture, mercifully out of Croke Park and gave him something to take with him the next time he’s there.

Con O’Callaghan was held to a solitary score, a mark that was moved on in closer to goals.

It’s impossible to quantify these things, but did meeting a genuine contender – and even at that, few were calling Mayo that prior to this game unfolding – outside Croke Park have an effect?

We had our answer to that.

A caveat or two, even as we say all that. Why did Dublin not press up on the Mayo kickout?

Anyone who had watched the same fixture last year could see how Dublin dismantled Mayo after the half time break, having carried a single point lead in.

Was it unfamiliarity with the surroundings? Was it a genuine fear they could be exposed over the top?

Either way, it’s something Dublin will ponder for a future meeting.

Why did Mayo push the final kickout? Was their sense of identity as a team that goes bald-headed for everything too hard to shift gear in that moment?

If Dublin had built an attack and still found the equaliser, the accusations would have followed that Mayo invited them on.

As it was, Ciaran Kilkenny’s leap and catch from Stephen Cluxton changed it all. Dublin were able to pour men ahead of the ball instead of laboriously building an attack.

It had the effect of Mayo defenders sprinting towards their own goal, not tackling Jack McCaffrey in possession.

A set-play? Of course it was. Beautifully executed.

Against all that, Mayo brought an unbelievable energy. We haven’t seen that appetite from them in a while.

By way of contrast, Derry will travel to Castlebar on Saturday night, going the exact opposite direction.

You don’t need to be privy to the GPS readings of a team to know that they are in a funk. Sometimes it can be purely mental which can then affect the physical reactions. But too many of their prominent names are either off-colour, getting suspensions or injured.

By way of odd coincidence, the All-Ireland is being launched in the Watty Grahams’ Glen clubrooms on Tuesday with local hero Emmet Bradley there to handle media enquiries.

Given rumours credence is always a fool’s business but he will, predictably, be asked about all the silly stuff that has been said about them.

A couple of hours after the game in Roscommon, the All-Ireland winning manager from a decade ago, Eamonn Fitzmaurice, had finished filing his Irish Examiner column and had a lightness in his step as he walked out of the Dr Hyde press box, pausing a while to chat with reporters hunched over laptops.

“Feels like the championship is underway,” he said.

He’s right. And it only took 58 games to reach this point.

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