t is six years since Mayo last lifted the Brendan Martin Cup, while Mayo were the team of the late 1990s and the turn of the century, since 2005 Cork have been the team of the latter half of the decade. Since claiming their first All Ireland title in 2005, the rebels have gone on to put an amazing four titles back to back, and now are going looking for the magical five in a row.
Standing in their way is a Mayo team who don’t have fond memories of the ladies from Leeside, having been beaten well by them in their last All Ireland final appearance in 2007 and again as recent as this year’s league final, where Cork were far more comprehensive winners than even the 1-20 to 0-11 score line would tell you on first inspection.
From that moment the final whistle was blown in Kiltoom at the end of the league final, Kevin Reidy knew his side had a lot of work ahead of them for the rest of the year. While they bounced a facile easy win over Leitrim in the Connacht semi-final, the hammering they took at the hands of Galway in the Connacht final showed that there was still a huge amount of work to do. And work they have since, Laois came first and a star turn from Emma Mullin saw them pick up some momentum, and a fortnight ago they continued that picking up some further momentum with a three point win over Tyrone in the quarter final, and put themselves a game away from Croke Park. The only question was who would it be against and as luck would have it Cork came out of the hat. The rebels demolished beaten Lenister finalists Kildare by 4-23 to 0-6 last weekend, setting up Saturday evening’s encounter in Nenagh.
Adapting to circumstance
With the Mayo defence coming under some severe pressure this year, Reidy has opted in the last few games to deploy Claire Egan at centre half back rather than in midfield where the Carnacon player has starred for so many years. Egan’s experience and battle hardened never say die attitude on the field has added some much needed stability to the Mayo rearguard. While up front Mayo have gone with a twin pronged full forward line containing Emma Mullin and Cora Staunton, with Triona McNicholas playing a deeper role giving both Mullin and Staunton more space to operate in. For a decade Staunton has been targeted as the player to stop if you want to stop Mayo, but with Mullin in excellent form it will give the Cork defence an extra threat to try to nullify. If both players find their form early on Saturday evening, they will make it a very uncomfortable hour for the Cork defence and give Mayo a great shot at claiming a spot in the final. Reidy will also have corner back Caroline McGing back in harness for Saturday’s game after she missed the last eight win over the Ulster side with a virus, also back in contention is Castlebar Mitchels Claire O’Hara who made only a brief cameo appearance at the end of the last game. O’Hara has been struggling with a long term hamstring injury but seems to have finally overcome that problem and the return of the former All Star will be a big boost to those in green and red.
Big performances needed from key players
Yvonne Byrne, who made three crucial saves, each as important as any score Mayo got in the quarter final, will also be crucial player for Mayo on Sunday as Cork pose as impressive a goal threat as any side in the game. The Hollymount custodian will have to be on her toes again when called on and will have to ensure that she gives her midfield and half back line every chance of winning ball on their own kickouts to secure possession for Mayo. With Egan moving back to the lynch pin defensive slot team captain Martha Carter has been partnering Breaffy’s Sinead Hughes in the middle of the park and it will be vital that they break even at least in this sector if Mayo are to have a chance of winning on the scoreboard. With Mullin and Staunton patrolling the inside line, getting the ball into them will be the Mayo priority and a lot will rest on the shoulders of Carnacon’s Fiona McHale. The half forward is capable of putting in a game winning performance herself and will be a key link between defence and attack for Mayo on Saturday evening. Come Saturday evening not too long after 7pm, Mayo will know if their season has ended or if they will be preparing for an All Ireland that they will go into as hot favourites.