A strange league campaign came to probably the most logical of conclusions in Croke Park on Sunday. For a good bit of the spring, avoiding being relegated to division two was the top priority. But through, good fortune, good luck and sheer hard work, Mayo beat and unexpected path to the Croke Park on the last Sunday in April. While Summer maybe supposed to be starting in a couple of days, the weather owed more to the start of the FBD than the start of the championship which will throw in for a few sides inside the next few weeks.
Big games often turn on big decisions and when Lee Keegan was barreling through on goal only to look to be upended and a certain free given to to Mayo, Maurice Deegan decided otherwise and waved play on. From there, Cork swept downfield and a Fintan Goold effort for a point came back off the post and into the arms of Aidan Walsh who blasted home Cork's second goal of the game and kill off the tie. While it was a turning point, Mayo manager James Horan felt that on the balance of play Cork were value for their win, where they picked up their third league title in as many years. “It was an important time in the game no doubt about that. But I would say over the course of the game, Cork probably deserved it. We didn't play at the level we can so we're a bit disappointed about that. But even with that we didn't play well in the first half and we went in four points up at half time. Cork got a good start in the second half, but we hung in there and if we had got the rub of the green or maybe the free we deserved there, we would have been there or there abouts. But overall the game was disappointing and I don't think we played at the tempo we can play at.”
On a day when the weather was going to be a crucial factor, Mayo played with the breeze in the first half and went in leading by 0-9 to 0-5. But realistically Mayo were going to need to have a much bigger lead if they were going to hold off the advances of the rebels in the second half. Mayo's midfield of Barry Moran and Jason Gibbons were under pressure from early on and the supply of ball into the full forward line wasn't up to scratch. But even when it came in the ball wasn't put to the best use. Of Mayo's nine points in the second half, six of them came from the boot of Cillian O'Connor five of those from frees. His one point from play in the half, could have been turned into a goal had he taken on the effort himself or played in Barry Moran who was unmarked, straight in front of the posts. Mayo's other points came from a rather subdued Andy Moran and two points from defenders. Keith Higgins started and finished a great move and the another came from Donal Vaughan. The Ballinrobe man was involved in a couple of flash points in the game. First he picked up an early booking for a late challenge on Eoghan Cadogan, then after being on the receiving end of a nasty accidental collision with the same player, one of the Cork players attempted to drag him off the deck by the back of his jersey as he lay prone on the ground. He was also involved in a wrestling tussle with Colm O'Neill out under the Hogan Stand side, which if referee Deegan saw fit could have been a second yellow for the Ballinrobe player.
In the physical stakes, Mayo were pushed around a bit and James Horan admitted as much afterwards, when asked did he think Mayo were pushed around a bit, “Yah I think so yah/ We made a couple of good runs and ran into traffic and we weren't strong enough to get through it or work the ball back and we gave a lot of turnovers and gave up a lot of soft frees so that gave them the momentum as we were trying to get back into the game. We've made progress in a strength and conditioning point of view but we're a long way off some of the really big teams so we have work to do there as well.”
While playing against the wind in the second half was always going to be difficult, a return of only two points from 35 minutes action is not good enough by a long way. Your never going to win a game like that and it still leaves a number of questions for Horan to answer as they try to get the best out of the players. The work rate up until the final whistle is something that didn't please the Ballintubber man after the game. “Our work rate was Ok, wasn't out best work rate performance, with ten minutes to go we looked tired and we looked flat. So, that's not the work rate you need to win national titles, so we'll take that on board.” All in all it was a disappointing performance from Mayo, there is no hiding that fact and between now and the start of the Connacht championship there is serious work to be done.
Cork: Colm O'Neill (1-0 ), Aidan Walsh (1-0 ), D O'Connor (0-2, 1f ), F Goold (0-2 ), P O'Neill (0-2 ), A O'Connor (0-1 ), G Canty (0-1,1f ), D Goulding (0-1 )
Mayo: C O'Connor (0-6, 5f ), K Higgins (0-1 ), A Moran (0-1 ), K McLoughlin (0-1 ), C Mortimer (0-1 ), D Vaughan (0-1 )
Mayo: D Clarke; K Kane, G Cafferkey, K Higgins; L Keegan, D Vaughan, C Boyle; B Moran, J Gibbons; K McLoughlin, A Moran, A Dillon; C Mortimer, C O'Connor, M Conroy. Subs: P Harte for J Gibbons (39 mins ), E Varley for M Conroy (40 mins ), D Geraghty for B Moran (55 mins ), J Doherty for C O'Connor (60 mins ), R Feeney for A Dillon (67 mins )
Cork: A Quirke; R Carey, M Shields, E Cadogan; N O'Leary, G Canty, P Kissane; P O'Neill, A O'Connor; F Goold, P Kelly, P Kerrigan; C O'Neill, A Walsh, D O'Connor. N Murphy for A O'Connor (64 mins ), D Goulding for C O'Neill (64 mins ), B O'Driscoll for P O'Neill (67 mins )
Ref: M Deegan.