By Micil Glennon
Mayo face Down on Saturday in Croke Park with the tantalising prize of an All-Ireland semi-final spot up for grabs (5.00pm).
James McCartan’s Down accounted for Fermanagh and Monaghan in Ulster before falling to a heavy provincial final loss to the ‘new and improved’ Donegal.
They then became only the second beaten provincial finalists to bounce back six days later with a qualifier win.
But with all due respect to Peter Creedon’s Tipperary, their very credible summer campaign had peaked.
Down had that extra quality that the Munster men couldn’t match.
They ran out five-point victors and had Benny Coulter to thank for a goal on the stroke of half-time that killed a mini Tipp revival.
Coulter and Ambrose Rogers hitting top form on Saturday will be vital to the Mournemen’s chances of progression.
The 2010 All-Ireland finalists will also be hoping to take advantage of their underdog status and Liam Doyle reckons that their opponents will have been happy with the draw.
"Mayo would have been listening to the draw and been delighted to get us. After all, they're coming in as Connacht champions and we're coming in after suffering a heavy defeat to Donegal," he said.
Danny Hughes is still struggling with a hamstring injury but will be given until the last moment to prove his fitness.
Mayo got to a league final in April but they now find themselves back in Croke Park after playing only one (real) competitive game all summer long - hardly ideal preparation for the business end of the Championship.
Their Connacht campaign consisted of a facile dismissal of Leitrim and a narrow victory over Sligo.
And with the two-point win over Sligo coming three weeks ago the lack of competitive football may come back to haunt the Connacht champions.
Captain Andy Moran has insisted that reaching the latter stages of the Championship each year is the key to making the breakthrough.
He said: "You have to keep putting yourself in the door, keep coming to Croke Park and some day you will push down the door like Dublin and Cork did.”
Despite speculation that Aidan O’Shea may start after recovering from a stomach injury, he is named on the bench in a line-up unchanged from the Connacht final.
Midfielder Barry Moran excelled against Sligo, and Down will have to come up with a plan to limit his influence.
While they only registered 12 points against the Yeats County, four of their six forwards were on target showing that life goes on without Conor Mortimer.
Recent history suggests that James Horan’s men have a great Croker performance in their locker each season, the problem has been the second act.
A loss for Mayo on Saturday would be seen as real regression and they should have too much power for Down.