Sport | 3 weeks ago
#TheToughest: Can this Mayo side bounce back yet again?
Bouncebackability runs throughout this Mayo side.

Mayo will begin their 2017 qualifier campaign against Derry on Saturday in McHale Park.

Last year, Mayo were plunged into the qualifiers after their Connacht semi-final defeat to Galway, their first Connacht Championship defeat to the Tribesmen since 2008.

After this loss, the critics were circling around Stephen Rochford's men.

Galway's three-point win in the rain in Castlebar brought Mayo's five-year unbeaten streak in Connacht football to a crashing end and, to many, it represented a significant crossroads for those Mayo footballers.

Mayo side

Mayo's five Connacht Championship titles between 2011 and 2015 were won by a side that didn't change significantly over the five years, with nine of their starting fifteen in their 2011 final victory over Roscommon also starting in their 2015 demolishment of Sligo.

Mayo's dominance in Connacht, as their followers will know too well, never lifted them to a coveted All-Ireland title but their success in Connacht was seen as important for the team.

"If they weren't winning in Connacht, how would they have a chance of winning an All-Ireland?" reasoned their followers, and these reservations were, to an extent, justified seeing as a Connacht side's last appearance in an All-Ireland final, apart from Mayo, was Galway's victory in 2001.

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However, a defeat for a team in a game that they most certainly should be winning, strangely, isn't always the worst thing for them.

The qualifiers offer a chance for a team to build up a head of steam, a chance for them to play with the shackles off in territory that they may not be entirely familiar with, as Mayo found out last year.

A team never wants to be sent into the qualifiers, but when they are, like Mayo have been this year, they have to make the best of that situation.

Mayo side

We need to look no further than the Tipperary hurlers' 2010 All-Ireland qualifier run, which included wins over Offaly, Waterford and Wexford. By the time Tipperary reached Kilkenny in the All-Ireland final, they had that winning mentality in their ranks and it galvanised them to All-Ireland glory.

Mayo's qualifier run of 2016 saw them begin with a triumph over Fermanagh, which was a more of a struggle than it should have been in a stuttering five-point win. In their next rounds, Rochford's men coasted to a nine-point victory over Kildare and a seven-point win over Westmeath.

Mayo didn't destroy any of the above teams, but they went about their business in a quiet, effective fashion.

By the time they reached Tyrone in an All-Ireland quarter-final, a game they were widely tipped to lose, the Mayo men were quietly confident, they had got used to winning after their three successive victories.

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This winning mentality persevered as they ground out a one-point victory over Mickey Harte's men, and went on to reach an All-Ireland final, which they narrowly lost out to Dublin in a replay.

This was Mayo's first All-Ireland appearance since 2013, which shows that losing to Galway in Connacht wasn't the worst thing for them. Losing to Galway for their second year running won't have gone down too well with Rochford's side, but it's a blow that they are well able to recover from.

A Connacht Championship won't have been their aim at the start of the year; most of their players already have multiple Connacht medals. There's only one holy grail for Mayo, and that's the All-Ireland.

This Mayo side should be entering this year's qualifiers with a steel, a gritted belief and an insatiable appetite to prove their doubters wrong and yes, there are plenty of doubters.

Mayo have had doubters in the past, but three appearances in the last five All-Ireland finals show that they are well able to respond.

Bouncebackability is one of the most important aspects of any sport, and this Mayo side have it in spades.

Setback after setback, their leaders, the likes of Cillian O'Connor, Diarmuid O'Connor, Lee Keegan, Paddy Durcan and others are used to being written off, and you can be guaranteed that they're planning for another assault at capturing Sam Maguire in September.

There is no reason why Mayo can't repeat last year's qualifier journey in this year's competition and get on a roll similar to what they did last year. A one-point loss to The Tribesmen in this year's Connacht semi-final sent Mayo into the back door again.

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The Yew County should have no problems in dispatching Derry on Saturday to get the ball rolling. Brian McIver's side were comprehensively trounced by Tyrone in their Ulster quarter-final clash and subsequently stuttered over the line against Waterford.

Mayo, therefore, should make it to Round 3A of the qualifiers, where they will still go into any game as favourites, no matter who they are drawn against.

Mayo, at this stage, will be quietly confident after defeating Derry and the side's belief, like last year, should be growing.

The toughest draw Mayo could get here is Donegal, but Mayo, in recent years, have had the Indian sign over the men from the Hills.

Mayo defeated Donegal by eight points in 2015 and 16 points in 2013.

Mayo side

Other teams that Mayo could draw include Clare, Meath, Longford or Sligo. Mayo will be hugely confident of beating any of these sides.

Should this Mayo side progress, which they probably will, they will be facing Roscommon or the losers of Kerry and Cork.

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Easy pickings should, as expected, Kerry beat the Rebels.

And who knows where the All-Ireland quarter-finals might take them?

While you're here...


Watch Wooly, Lar Corbett, Daithí Regan, Dion Fanning, Conor Sketches and Carlow's Endline Challenge on SportsJOE Live Episode 20.

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GAA, The Toughest, Mayo GAA