"Who else do you want to be playing?" said Keith Higgins, throwing the question right back at us. So Mayo-Dublin comes to pass, certainly answering some prayers, if not providing the potentially scintillating contest the football championship has been crying out for.
To get there, Mayo didn't beat Donegal as much as chew them up and spit them out. Assuming they bring that same hunger and energy to Croke Park at the end of the month it could also be the game that defines the entire summer.
“It’s definitely where you want to be,” added Higgins, the Mayo captain realising that comes with several meanings. It’s Mayo’s fifth consecutive semi-final appearance, but will count for nothing if it doesn’t all help in bringing them over the finish line towards the end of September.
“That just shows the level, we’ve been at, in the last few years. But, at the end of the day, no one remembers who plays in a semi-final.”
Higgins used the word “satisfying” to describe Saturday’s performance, realising too that for all the ease and composure with which they eliminated Donegal, it certainly wasn’t perfect: “I don’t know exactly how you’d describe it, to be honest. I just thought we did very well. I suppose it probably wasn’t the prettiest of games, for a lot of it. We were solid enough at the back and when we went forward then, at the start of the second half, the second goal and the couple of points probably killed it off.
“We had a lot of chances then in the last 10 or 15 minutes, just didn’t take them, but at the same time we didn’t let them in for much either.”
took his turn to offer the view from the sideline, the joint Mayo manager - along with
– using the word “energetic”. There’s also a fearlessness about the way Mayo are playing which may well be their trump card against Dublin.
“I thought the whole team worked really, really hard,” said Connelly. “Donegal, to be fair, only had a week to recover from last weekend, and that didn’t help, but I thought we were fresher throughout the field, and finished strong.
“We wouldn’t be happy with the amount of chances we missed, in the second half, and that we could have killed the game off as a contest earlier than we did.
“But we learned during the league, that against the kind of system Donegal play, you need to be patient on the ball, switch direction when it needs to be switched. It’s about being patient, waiting for the runners coming through and when they come, be clinical when they do appear.”
Connelly admitted he hadn’t given a moments thought to Dublin: “We’ve always taken it one game at a time. We know the calibre of team they are. We’re under no illusions. They came to Castlebar in the league and gave us a whipping. They’re very strong, throughout the park. We’ll need to be very competitive; this performance, especially in the second half won’t be good enough to overcome them.”
For Donegal, the recent load of games clearly took some toll, and yet manager Rory Gallagher refused to use that as any excuse though Donegal's lethargy was visible all over the field.
“Ach, no, this is a fairly experienced Donegal team, so it wouldn’t have been a major factor, no,” said Gallagher, after his team slipped to an eight-point defeat.
“Ideally, you’d prefer less games, and we have been managing game to game a little, the last few weeks, with some players,” added Gallagher, who did have a two-week break after the Ulster final defeat to Monaghan, but were out again in Croke Park, last Saturday against Galway.
“I certainly felt we’d recovered well since the Galway game, felt fresh coming down here. But Mayo are a team in the prime of their health, with a very good age profile, and have a lot going for them.
“It would have been ideal to go through the front door, no doubt about that. It would have given us the wee bit of breathing space to get a few more bodies right, but we just didn’t put our chances away against Monaghan, and that door was closed for us.
“But as I say, we came down here thinking it was going to be nip and tuck, and that’s how it was panning out, coming up to half time. Obviously their two goals were big game changes, probably more so the second one, because it left us with too much to do, and to be honest Mayo just ran out comfortable winners after that.”
Gallagher also pointed to Aidan O’Shea’s overall influence as central to Mayo’s game plan: “He’s a top, top player, and he’ll get moments in games, no doubt about that. It was disappointing to lose
though . .
“But again, Mayo are a very good side, we knew that, have an awful lot going for them. They’ll take a lot of beating, but then Dublin will present a different challenge. I think Aidan O’Shea at full forward clearly makes them different, and I don’t think they would have got that first goal without him in that position.”