The second half was just three minutes old when James Horan looked to his bench and called for one of his most experienced campaigners to come in and steady the ship against Armagh. Donal Vaughan made a telling contribution after his introduction, swinging over a vital score with his weaker left foot in the 50th minute to put the westerners in front by the minimum of margins.
Mayo held on to their one point advantage and withstood a late surge from Armagh as they attempted to bring the game back on level terms. The hosts breathed a sigh of relief when Niall Grimley’s audacious effort on goal drifted wide and as the fans streamed onto the Castlebar turf, Mayo headed for Monday mornings draw, coming out on top of one of the biggest tests they have faced to date.
“It was pretty intense. I was out for a couple of weeks so to come into a battle like that was pretty intense but we’re just delighted to get the win. I actually said coming down that if we could get a one point win we’d take it. In fairness to Armagh they had a lot of momentum behind them and I thought they died on their shields out there and they deserve a lot of credit. I’d say for a neutral it was a good game to watch”.
In the lead up to the Armagh game the main taking point coming from the West was one of an injury crisis striking the Mayo camp. That was only furthered with the loss of Lee Keegan and Jason Doherty; both having came off the field of play on Saturday evening injured. Vaughan was of course able to put a positives spin on having so many injury concers as Mayo had a chance to demonstrate the depth of the squad.
“We’ve taken a few knocks but I think in reality we’ve actually four or five experienced players back although we’re after losing two but it’s for a short period of time so one man’s loss is any man’s opportunity. We’d prefer to have everyone but the strength of our squad showed there today. The likes of Kevin Mc came on and got 1-1, I chipped in with a score myself and Cillian scored as well so we’re very happy with the bench”.
All their attention will now turn to arch rivals Galway as the sides clash for the first time ever outside of the Connaught championship and with the venue confirmed as Limerick both teams will be bursting a gut to reach the super 8s. Once again Mayo will call upon their loyal supports to make the journey, something that has never been an issue for the green and red followers.
Through ups and downs the Mayo faithful have travelled the length of the country to support their team, enduring much heartache along the way but nothing strong enough to dishearten their enthusiasm. Vaughan remarks how much the support means to the players and tells a story of how strong the Mayo support truly is,
“It’s unbelievable, I was probably one of them myself last weekend (vs Down) who travelled up to Newry. Just to see the MO number plates up and down the motorway. My sister was in hospital last week, she had a baby, and I was chatting to one of the nurses and she was driving to Newry, wasn’t home to two o’clock in the morning and was working a seven o’clock shift the next day, people say we put in commitment, that’s commitment”.
With Galway now on the horizon Mayo will focus purely on recovery for the next few days, “We’ve been on the road so as quick as we can now just recovery, ice baths and good sleeps. It helps that we’re at home so you’re straight back home and into routine. We’ve an awful lot to learn from that game so we need to learn and improve to put in a performance and hopefully get into the super 8s”.
A spot in the super 8s would be a massive achievement for this depleted Mayo side, coming through battles against both Down and Armagh to now face a wounded animal in Galway who on another day would have been crowned provincial champions. An intriguing contest lies in store and is sure to be the game of the weekend.