With six minutes left on the clock in Cusack Park in Ennis, it looked like it might finally go wrong for this marvellous Mayo team when Brian Coakley kicked his fifth point of the day to draw Cork level with Mayo with the score 3-7 to 1-13. Cork were coming and the momentum was with them at this stage. Peter Kelleher was causing havoc inside the Mayo defensive line and the legs seemed to be going in some of those in green and red.
But we had learned before this year and in years gone by that we should never doubt this magnificent collection of players as Conor Loftus and then Liam Irwin found the net within minutes of each other to leave the Rebels challenge lying in bits on the floor at the final whistle as massive Mayo crowd in the 7,489 in Cusack Park ready to make sure Plan B was put into action if there ever was one.
The game was a privliege to be at, as an advertisement for football you could have hardly asked for better and Cork really played their part to and in the likes of Sean Powter, Peter Kelleher, Brian Coakley and Michael Hurley they have players that you will be seeing plenty of in years to come.
But moving on to Mayo, what can be said, but what a bunch of young heroes. When Mayo needed them to stand up and be counted, they were, Matthew Ruane and Stephen Coen drove them on from the middle of the park with a real all action effort. Fergal Boland’s awareness of where to be to pick up a pass or a break and his fearlessness of running right down the throat was an example to all, Michael Plunkett kicked two points and had a hand in three of Mayo’s five goals. Diarmuid O’Connor did the right thing every time he got the ball and ran himself into the ground once more and showed what a force his is becoming. Conor Loftus showed brilliant awareness and killer instinct in taking his two goals as did Liam Irwin with his second goal the icing on the cake of a brilliant day in the Ennis sunshine for the Mayo faithful.
The Mayo defence was under pressure for most of the game and that’s something that everyone knew coming into it they probably would be, but they gave it their all with Seamus Cunniffe, Eoin O’Donoghue and Shairoze Akram et al keeping doing what they had to, while Michael Hall sniffed around in between the two lines of backs, sniping and picking things up and moving the ball out of defence to attack at pace when he could, while Mattie Flanagan behind them kept things calm and composed.
Of course there are plenty things that didn’t go as the should for Mayo, that’s football and happens in every game at every level, but they got over them and kept going and stuck to their guns and at the end of the day that’s why they are now All Ireland champions and for many of them for a second time in three years.
Mayo played with the breeze at their back in the first half, but it wasn’t assisting them with their shooting as they kicked wide after wide in the opening half and were trailing by 0-7 to 0-4 with the half almost up. But in three amazing minutes before the break the Mayo scored 2-1 before the short whistle.
Diarmuid O’Connor found the back of the net, with a great finish a to kickstart the revival. Shairoze Akram burst a gut down the right wing, the ball was driven out of his arms by a Cork defender but Akram didn’t give up on it and won the ball back tight to the corner, and then Liam Irwin and Michael Plunkett engaged in some silky soccer moves on the deck before the ball was flicked up by Plunkett who found O’Connor charging in at the back post to palm to an empty net. Straight from the kick-out Mayo won a free and Liam Irwin drove it over the bar from just inside the 45m line. Not long after that, O’Connor closed down a Cork lateral free inside their own half and forced a turn over that was picked up by Boland who charged at the defence before Conor Loftus and Fionán Duffy (who took a big hit for his troubles ) kept the move going to Plunkett who in turn found Irwin who held off his man and fired low to the net on the turn. In an unbelievable turn of events Mayo had a inflicted a seven point swing in the blink of an eye on Cork.
The Rebels hit the ground running and by the 36th minute they had Mayo’s lead back to just two points before Mayo struck their third goal from the boot of Conor Loftus whose snap shot finish from the edge of the penalty box caught the Cork keeper by surprise.
The game then entered a surprisingly scoreless ten minutes until Kelleher leapt highest and palmed the ball to the Mayo net and brought the game back to life. Loftus clipped over a free which was followed by points from Coakley, Hurley and one more from Coakley this time from a free to leave the game level as the contest entered the home stretch and Cork were starting to come strong.
But Mayo dug deep into their souls and dragged every ounce of effort they had left in them to drive for glory one more time. Liam Irwin shot for a point but slipped as he hit it and it went wide, the kick-out from Casey went all kinds of wrong for Cork as it went straight to Loftus who picked it out 35m from goal and he rode one tackle before driving it high to the roof of the net to break Corks will and cement Mayo’s own when they needed it. The icing was put on the cake by Liam Irwin who chased in a ball by sub Morgan Lyons, Casey came for the ball when he was never going to get there and Irwin showing his poachers instinct flicked the low bouncing ball that seemed to take an age to dribble to the back of the empty net and set off scenes of jubilation in Mayo fans that will live long in the memory.
Mayo: L Irwin 2-2 (1f, 145 ), C Loftus 2-2 (2fs ), D O'Connor 1-0, M Plunkett 0-2, M Ruane 0-1.
Cork: B Coakley 0-5 (3fs ), S O'Donoghue 0-4 (3fs, 145 ), P Kelleher 1-0, R Harkin 0-2, R O'Toole 0-1, M Hurley 0-1, S Powter 0-1.
Mayo: M Flanagan; E O’Donoghue, S Cunniffe, D Kenny; S Akram, J Kelly, M Hall; M Ruane, S Coen; F Boland, C Loftus, D O’Connor; L Irwin, F Duffy, M Plunkett.
Subs: J Carr for Duffy (44 mins ), B Duffy for Kelly (56 mins ), M Lyons for Plunkett (56 mins ).
Cork: A Casey; J Mullins, M McSweeney, K Histon; K Flahive, S Cronin, E Lavers; R O’Toole, S White; S O’Donoghue, S Powter, R Harkin; B Coakley, P Kelleher, M Hurley.
Subs: S O’Leary for O’Toole (37 mins ), D O’Duinin for White (45 mins, bc ), C Kiely for Harkin (54 mins ), S Sherlock for Hurley (57 mins ), D Quinn for McSweeney (60 mins ).
Referee: P Hughes (Armagh ).