Last week, I remember telling anyone that was willing to listen that Mayo will beat Cork but it won't be straightforward. Not in my wildest dreams could I have envisaged what occurred. This current crop has certainly put us through the ringer, we have been to hell and back, twice now in three weeks. A rollercoaster of emotions is just a massive understatement. Looking for a simple explanation is a waste of time.
Mayo can compete with the best in the country, no question as they have proved so many times in the last five years, so to figure out why they struggle to put away inferior teams is nothing short of a mystery. I hear every day they lack the killer instinct of Kerry or Dublin but the reality is Mayo are grafting out results in the face of adversity when all looks lost. I wasn't one bit worried last Saturday evening, I was confused but not worried, I had full faith in Mayo winning the game even when things looked desperate at the end of normal time and for a period in extra time.
Big performances from big players
Throwing away a seven point second half lead and clinging on for dear life at the end left me totally bamboozled. Our much maligned forward line could hardly have been more efficient. Cillian O'Connor played a proper captain's role scoring a massive haul of 11 points, six of which were from play, he couldn't have done any more. Andy Moran again proved to be a top target man and leader of the line, while handsomely contributing four points from play. How can anybody question his inclusion in the team? His experience and know-how is invaluable. Aidan O'Shea too had another stormer, the human wrecking ball, another who also made a vital contribution to the scoreboard with three points. O'Shea, to some, was the man of the match again last Saturday which would have meant it would have been three in a row had he got it, which constitutes consistency of the highest level. It's such a difficult ask to perform at that level particularly when your card is marked and opponents know what to expect.
Playing their part
I still can't argue with the choice of Cillian O'Connor for the man-of-the-match award, who also deservedly won the GAA.ie player of the week award. Two substitutes, Paddy Durcan and Conor, Loftus both nailed two crucial scores each after being introduced, which is what you want from your bench, to make a telling contribution, to influence the game. As it was after the Derry game with Loftus, some quarters will be demanding that both players should be in the starting 15 for Sunday against Roscommon, maybe they will. Are we the only county in Ireland that can't have substitutes to come on to stamp their authority on games? We have to trust our management in this case, not everyone can start and, as I mentioned last week, when I look at a team sheet in a match programme, it's the substitutes I get attracted to first to see what we have in reserve.
Still improvements to be made
Mayo had their first fully fit match day squad for their game against Cork (barring long term injured players of course ). Mayo had 10 different scorers against Cork and had a very high percentage success rate from shots taken, scoring 21 of 26 attempts in normal time; however our defence was very porous, coughing up umpteen goal chances. Mayo should have been more than capable of closing out the game when they raced into 0-14 to 0-07 second half lead but some not so convincing defending let Cork in for two second half goals. Keith Higgins and Stephen Coen will both be disappointed they let Cork's Sean Powter get a shot off to score the first, while Coen got caught badly when the ball was hand passed over his head to allow Luke Connolly level the game with Cork's second.
It's not going to be easy
Mayo need to get the balance right and who better to get it right again than this year's Connacht Champions Roscommon in what promises to be a mouthwatering quarter final in Croke Park on Sunday. The Rossies will be full of confidence after their emphatic win over Galway and will show no fear. Kevin McStay elected to get his team named last Sunday so there were no distractions or anxious waiting for his players for their final week's preparations. Mayo are overwhelming favourites and are priced at 4/11. Our lads' familiarity with Croker should surely mean we have a very distinctive advantage. It's a special day for Connacht football with three teams taking part on Sunday. Based purely on experience I see Mayo making it to the semi final for the seventh year in a row, not without fireworks though.