Excitement is building ahead of a huge weekend in the GAA calendar when four becomes two in the All-Ireland SFC series.
There can be no denying that the standout tie sees the five-in-a-row chasing Dublin take on a Mayo side who seem to be getting better with every game, despite their blip against Kerry.
After that defeat to the Kingdom, Joe Brolly announced that their chances of making the semi-finals were gone but here we stand, just two days away from the most eagerly anticipated game of football this year and it involves James Horan’s side.
It’s no shock to see Mayo at the business end of the championship. After all, they did win the Allianz League this year and have contested eight of the last nine All-Ireland semi-finals.
But they really have done it the hard way. Beating Down in Newry is no mean feat while Armagh put them to the pin of their collar in Castlebar. Following that, they took out heated rivals Galway to book their spot in the Super 8s.
They may have been hammered by Kerry and laboured to a win over Meath, but it’s a fair assessment to say they looked a tired team, and who could blame them? Five games in six weeks was a tiresome slog.
Following a week’s break, they choked the life out of Donegal and their two star men, Michael Murphy and Ryan McHugh, to cement their spot in the final four.
What’s more even remarkable is that they did it all without a host of key players and an injury list that has continued to grow.
Despite the performances of men like James Carr and Fionn McDonagh throughout their league success, the real find of the competition for Mayo was Matthew Ruane. The Breaffy midfielder showed his strength and athleticism and proved he could kick scores and get from box-to-box. His presence alongside clubmate Aidan O’Shea looked like a match made in heaven and one that Mayo could rely on this year.
However, Ruane’s broken collarbone prior to the Down game was a major blow. Mayo took it in their stride though and managed to come out on the right side of a four-point win away from home.
Following the Down match, they lost captain Diarmuid O’Connor to a fractured wrist. Again, they adapted and survived to overcome an Armagh side who gave as good as they got.
By the third round of the qualifiers, Mayo had already lost arguably their two most effective players from the league but it didn’t seem to phase them one bit.
When Kerry rolled around in the Super 8s, Paddy Durcan, one of the most underrated players of this generation, was missing. Durcan returned for the final shootout with Donegal but by that stage, two-time All-Star David Clarke had been struck down with an injury.
Lest we forget that the absence of Tom Parsons, Seamus O’Shea and the championship’s all-time leading scorer, Cillian O’Connor – who have all returned – and you see how remarkable it is that Mayo are where they are today.
As is the theme for this season, they’ve been dealt yet another huge blow ahead of the semi-final with the news that Jason Doherty suffered an anterior cruciate ligament injury. The half-forward has been in flying form this year and was causing Donegal all sorts of problems before injury hit.
However, will Doherty’s injury affect Mayo this weekend? Based on what we’ve seen so far, the answer is a resounding no.
What is shocking about Mayo’s run to the semi-finals is that more so than any other season, they’ve done it without key men at key stages. No other team, barring Dublin, would have been able to navigate their way through the qualifier series and the Super 8s without having their best team out there.
You don’t have to be a Mayo fan (like half the country seemingly) to respect the pure and utter resilience and failure to lie down when everything seems to be going against them. All things considered, they’ll probably fall just short on Saturday but there can be no denying what a remarkable season it has been for James Horan’s side.