AS James Horan talks to the assembled media in the official press room under the Hogan Stand, the first signs of an exit from the Mayo dressing room are apparent a few yards away.
County Board treasurer JP Lambe is standing beside the bus in the tunnel while a few yards away his assistant, Tommy Goonan, along with Liam Ludden, loads jerseys, balls, training gear and water bottles into the back of Goonan’s Toyota Land Cruiser.
Club Mayo’s Noel Howley emerges, walking with the aid of a crutch. He injured his ankle three weeks earlier at Croke Park when he fell rushing to celebrate the Cork win.
As the players emerged they wore strained expressions. Disappointed, not devastated.
Glass half-full or half-empty? Mayo corner-back Keith Higgins wasn’t sure. They had just lost a game they had come into fully intent of winning.
“It’s very disappointing,‘ he told The Mayo News. “We came up here believing that we could win but we were beaten by a better team. It’s hugely disappointing to come away after a defeat like that.
“I don’t think belief was a problem because we set out [thinking], since the Cork game, that we could beat them,” he explained.
“We targeted the first fifteen minutes to make sure we made a good start because we know what happens if Kerry get a run on you. I don’t know, did we ease off after that? They got a couple of points up but we still thought we were in a decent position at half-time. Still, as the game went on, in the second half, they seemed to get the scores that bit easier.”
MUCH of the debate in advance of the game was how Mayo would cope with the various threats in the Kerry forward line. Several of the Mayo players remarked about how they had done well on most of the marquee forwards. Declan O’Sullivan and Kieran Donaghy were kept pretty quiet, Higgins did reasonably well on Darran O’Sullivan but then there was Colm Cooper.
“They’re very hard to contain, they’ve got so many [good] players,” remarked the Ballyhaunis defender. “Like I said before the game, they’ve probably got the six best forwards in the country.
“You concentrate on one and next thing someone else comes along and taps over a few points. When we drove on it just left so much space in the forwards that they had a field day really.”
So, to the positives. James Horan had spoken to his squad in the dressing room after the game and the message he imparted was that the future is bright.
“One thing James has been trying to drill into us this year is that the potential is there and the footballers are there, so we should try to regroup now over the winter and come back next year and try to build on things again.
”The set-up that is there this year has been excellent. The theme [in the dressing room] was to just try to build on this and move on, and take the next step next year.”
The physicality of Mayo’s game is something that Jack O’Connor alluded to afterwards, by means of praise. Higgins agrees that this year saw a much greater intensity to Mayo’s play.
“It was probably something we needed to try to work on all year, to bring that kind of intensity to it. We probably did it for the Cork game but didn’t do it for enough periods out there today. We probably didn’t win enough ball around the middle but, yeah, it is something we have worked on.
“We’ll work hard on it again for next year and try to drive on a bit.”