When the farmer sees you robbing the orchard he tends to fire a shot overhead but the second bullet is coming straight at you. The time for warnings has passed and not just for Mayo, Galway and the remaining qualifier teams.
Kerry people are extremely interested in Saturday night’s Connacht affair in Limerick. You couldn’t write that sentence until 2019 but the road thereafter leads to Killarney for the opening round of Super 8s.
And if last year taught us anything it’s to avoid, at all cost, losing that first game. The rough and tumble of championship is upon us. No higher stakes can be imagined for Galway and Mayo. Everything is on the line. Everything for Mayo. Inter-county careers could end, a team could permanently break apart.
Galway must show more if they are to progress. Their supporters turned against them after losing the Connacht final to Roscommon. That result put Kevin Walsh in an almost inescapable position. Does he change the way they play due to public opinion or does he hunker down and stay true to the chosen philosophy?
Really, the only answer is a little bit of both. The simple solution is to beat Mayo. Do it by any means, just do it.
The problem with Galway is they look like a team with the handbrake half up. I wrote about this a few weeks back – before Roscommon beat them – but when a player of Shane Walsh's calibre turns away from goal and moves the ball laterally something is seriously wrong with the style of play.
Walsh, a gifted player who can move effortlessly off either his left or right, should only have two thoughts when the ball comes to him: how do I score or how to I create a score for someone else? Seeing him slow the pace takes any good out of the game. It’s not football at all. Head above water stuff.
But there is no easy way to alter how Galway are playing. It’s like a boat in the water. There are no sharp turns.
Kerry and Mayo find themselves in similar predicaments. It’s too late for radical change but Kerry’s defensive frailties – never mind 3-10, Cork should have scored 5-10 in the Munster final – and whatever happened to Mayo down the stretch against Armagh both appear deep-rooted.
No sharp turns then. More a hope that overall progress will get them where they need to be – safe passage secured towards an All-Ireland semi-final.
I put these three counties together as their fates are unavoidably linked over the coming fortnight. The immediate prize for the winner of Galway versus Mayo in the Gaelic Grounds is a trip to the Kingdom seven days later.
This Saturday is do or die, obviously, but there will be a similar enough feel in Fitzgerald Stadium a week later. Non-stop season defining games. If you aren’t ready for the football championship to ignite you never will be.
But first Mayo must return to the scene of the 2014 crime that ended James Horan’s previous stint as manager. That crazy defeat to Kerry remains a disastrous memory for them.
Kerry want, almost need, Mayo to stay alive. They want the type of challenge only they are guaranteed to bring. They represent the ideal test to see if we’ve got our own house in order after the Munster final raised a load of concerns.
You need between 10 and 12 players motoring all summer long to escape the Super 8s. That's the minimum requirement. Dublin would probably expect 17, 18 lads to be on the same level but Kerry – all of a sudden – need more men to step up. The goalie, Shane Ryan, is doing grand. Tadhg Morley looks solid enough. Tom O'Sullivan, no complaints. Up front, David Clifford and Stephen O'Brien, you'd be happy with their contributions. That's it. Another five or six players must reach the same standard.
So Kerry definitely want Mayo, even to atone for the league meetings when they horsed us out of it, first in Tralee and then in the league final in Croke Park. We owe them. We know what’s needed to beat them. It will instantly lift standards in the panel and Mayo could well be jaded.
We don’t know what’s left in an ageing group that have been on the road for several weeks now, never might the previous five years since Horan walked after losing to Kerry in that All-Ireland semi-final replay.
What we know with certainty is we don’t know enough about any team, bar the Dubs. That’s the real reason Kerry need a run at Mayo. It’s a gift-wrapped test. Who believes the same challenge will come from Galway?
What we also know is you can’t be stumbling on the opening day of the Super 8s, like last year’s defeat to Galway in Croke Park when Kerry and Eamonn Fitzmaurice’s reign never recovered.
God, the home tie feels like an enormous advantage. I expect a performance of real substance from Kerry. The flaws exposed by Cork can be flipped into positives. Peaking in July seems more important than ever in the new system.
But we are leaping ahead of ourselves. All eyes are trained on Mayo v Galway. Certainly down here.
It’s the same old story for Mayo. The same, yet older, faces remain as key figures. With Lee Keegan definitely out that’s more weight on Aidan O’Shea and the returning Cillian O’Connor. Other veterans like Chris Barrett and Brendan Harrison also need to keep performing unlike the fresh blood infused into Dublin’s panel each and every season by Jim Gavin.
Same goes for Kerry’s list of minor winners seeking to transform into senior footballers. Mayo haven’t got anywhere near the same talent bursting through. At least they are still doing what makes so many neutrals love them. Scraping by. Surviving.
Time keeping is a controllable. It shouldn't be an opinion
Maurice Deegan may avoid the south Armagh borderlands for a while. They won’t be happy with his refereeing performance in Castlebar last Saturday night. Kieran McGeeney said as much about the time keeping.
We have banged this drum enough times and still no change. This is not a shot at Maurice. Time keeping is a controllable. It shouldn’t be an opinion! It’s an exact science in all the other serious sports and shouldn’t be lumped on the referee as the seconds tick away in a nail-biting qualifier. The fourth official could be whispering in his ear and Maurice could be relaying to players, as we see in rugby, precisely how long remains. Armagh deserved more time to finish off the old heavyweight they had up against the ropes.
But, instead, Mayo were allowed spoil the extra minutes to end Armagh’s season. The game keeps changing, the pace keeps going up a notch, yet the GAA stays the same on this instantly solvable issue. “Injury time” should be a dead phrase years ago. That, in one fell swoop, would remove the blatant time wasters.
Dublin are the best at it, along with everything else, as from 60 minutes they can mesmerise the opposition with how they kill the clock. They do it with ball movement and they do it by trespassing deep into your land. If they sense a team is settling for the moral victory, they will destroy that illusion on the scoreboard.
Dublin play to the death. Mayo survive. Horan has returned, after five seasons, to find a very familiar panel of men. Take Andy Moran. A man who owes Gaelic football nothing at this stage, guaranteed hall of famer if we had such a thing, Andy even added that wonderful Indian summer in 2017. But there he was last Saturday, central to the cause until Horan pulled him before half-time.
Moran should still have a role to play for Mayo. A very important one too, but closer to the cameos we saw from Bernard Brogan and Gooch Cooper at the tail end of their inter-county days. Phased out but useful, like the fella who has paid his dues still coming into the office on a three day week. Strolling around with cup of coffee in hand yet well able to put a few neat points over the bar or thread a pass, so the last medal feels earned.
That Andy Moran remains the first port of call in Mayo’s inside forward line does not bode well for them.
Now, I’d be a fool to write these men off, but every battle represents a last stand for the Mayo team we have witnessed, with jaws to the floor at times, since 2011.
They are still standing. And the irony of having to return to the Gaelic Grounds will not be lost on any of them. Mayo folk must grimace at the mere mention of 2014 because that was the All-Ireland that slipped through the fingers of Horan, Moran, O’Shea, Keegan, O’Connor and Keith Higgins into the lap of Fitzmaurice and Kerry.
More misery or the chance to exorcise some ghosts while dumping out Galway in the process? I’d say the latter.
Kerry calmly await the winners down in Killarney. Yes indeed, we are entering deep championship waters.