Last Sunday’s All-Ireland senior quarter final against Cork really had a bit of everything. The tone for the game was set up earlier in the week when Brian Cuthbert, the Cork manager, launched an attack on two of Mayo’s favourite sons, Kevin McLoughlin and Cillian O’Connor. This was then compounded by Cork selector Ronan McCarthy’s agreement with his manager when both players’ integrity was put into question and their ability to “foul tactically” and be very “streetwise” was used as a means of trying to give Cork an edge with the referee. McLoughlin and O’Connor are role models for youngsters all over the county and indeed country, and I feel the Cork management made a big mistake in naming them, particularly as they have a pretty much impeccable disciplinary record. The bottom line is you want your forwards tackling hard, and maybe if their own team were a little more “streetwise” against Kerry they would not have received such a hiding.
War of attrition
The first half was a real war of attrition and turned into a right old scrap, Cork the instigators and Mayo taking the bait and willing to engage. It was bizarre to see Cork half forwards Mark Collins and Colm O’Driscoll sprinting for the edge of their own square while the ball was still in the air from the throw in, culminating in overcrowding on the pitch and a nightmare for any forward to play against, I felt for Andy Moran and Cillian O’Connor in the first half, they had no room whatsoever. It took a dirty smack on Kevin McLoughlin to stir the Mayo players; Eoin Cadogan’s reaction in the aftermath, telling McLoughlin get up with blood streaming from his eye, was enough to annoy even the calmest. The O’Shea brothers took exception to Cork’s physicality, Brian Hurley was flattened by Seamus O’Shea and then promptly pulled off the ground by Aidan O’Shea, and a game of football almost broke out. The most notable point of the first half was that Chris Barrett first struggled with Brian Hurley and then Colm O’Neill, but I could not understand why Tom Cunniffe was trying to assist the attack when he could have given Barrett a dig out at the back. A powerful run by Aidan O’Shea resulted in the first, and amazingly only, black card of the day for Cork centre back Tomas Clancy, his replacement Damien Cahalane was another doing his best to turn the match into a brawl. Seamus O’Shea, Alan Dillon, and Jason Doherty showed how to beat a blanket defence with some well taken first half points. It was 0-8 apiece at half time and the majority of us were fearful that Mayo were simply not let play.
Big players step up to the mark
The first 15 minutes of the second half, or the championship quarter as some like to call it, was where Mayo won the game, they increased the work rate, played with more passion, and got the ball faster into the forward line. Inspired by the O’Sheas and Donal Vaughan around the middle and veteran Alan Dillon in the forward line Mayo outscored Cork by eight points to one during this period. Andy Moran was none too pleased to be substituted after assisting twice and scoring one in those first few minutes, and when Cork clawed Mayo back I was a little bemused to see Cillian O’Connor make way as I felt he was probably going to be needed for a crucial free or two. To their eternal credit Cork have to be admired for getting back on level terms, thanks to the introduction of Donnacha O’Connor and some generous defending by Mayo, Cork scoring a rapid 1-04 in 12 minutes. Many wondered if Mayo had the balls or the belly for the fight, amazingly after the Cork leveller Mayo raised the ante again resulting in a brilliant goal by Aidan O’Shea. We were barely talking about how relieved we were when Brian Hurley smashed the ball past Robbie Hennelly after an uncharacteristic slip by Keith Higgins, game on again. The dying moments would have tested many a pacemaker, and when Colm O’Neill stepped up to take the last free I had visions of the net rippling as I felt a shot at goal was his only option with time up. Michael Meehan scored a stunner from a free into the same goal not many moons ago. We more than anyone are aware about referees and timing mix ups after last year’s All-Ireland final, but it looked like Cork ticked all the boxes in seeking information from referee Cormac Reilly (who had a terrible afternoon ). Cork selector Ciaran O’Sullivan and free taker O’Neill seemed to get clarification that there was going to be time after O’Neill’s pointed free, you could tell from the Cork players’ reaction they were misinformed. Maybe it is time to take the time keeping duties away from the refs because we know how they feel.