They travelled south yesterday aware of the bracing reality that an early season packed with promise could come to an abrupt end. Ultimately, though, they took care of business, resisting possible favours from elsewhere with a wholly competent performance to breeze through to the NFL Division 1 decider in a fortnight.
In that Croke Park showpiece they will collide once more with Cork, the side they dismissed at a sun-soaked Páirc Uí Chaoimh yesterday.
It creates the prospect of Munster versus Connacht showdowns in both the National League Division 1 finals and during his post-match musings Mayo boss John O’Mahony called for some imagination to be employed by the GAA fixture-makers.
“I think what should happen now is play a double header. We have Mayo-Cork in the football and Galway-Cork in the hurling so why not fill some pitch somewhere and promote the game. In fairness to TG4, Setanta and the media in general they have been promoting the game. But this League happens without the real, huge GAA public out there knowing about it, so there’s an opportunity there. If the GAA can promote a game at the beginning of the league like they did a few years ago, why can’t they promote the blooming final of it?”
When this match is properly distilled, the five-minute period after the break jumps out as the most striking aspect. Mayo trooped in at the break tied with Cork at 0-7 apiece and when the other half-time league scores were boomed out from the loudspeaker, the news of Dublin’s sizeable interval advantage was a stern reminder to the Mayo players of what was required. They assumed their responsibilities impressively thereafter with a blistering five-minute post interval spell yielding as many points.
“The only one that could have put us in the league final was ourselves,” stated O’Mahony. “If there was any reminder to focus on that and not on Dublin, it was when we got that news at half-time that they were up. We did well after. But Cork are the team of the last eighteen months between the league and championship, and they’re threatening to break the hoodoo of Kerry or Tyrone. Someone said to me coming in today that Cork could have three teams in the league. It’s not a panel they have, but a platoon.”
That last point by O’Mahony was a clear reference to Cork’s line-up. Conor Counihan took the scalpel to his starting 15 beforehand with his surgical work ensuring that only a third of the team that started last year’s All-Ireland final were present. They also lost captain Graham Canty 28 minutes into his comeback from injury when he limped off after shipping a heavy knock. But Cork lacked the work ethic and dynamism that has characterised their league performances to date, and their manager was downbeat afterwards.
“I’d be very disappointed with our performance. We were very listless throughout. Even though we hung in there in the first-half, we weren’t performing at any reasonable level at all.
“We were in a situation today where people were fighting for places and people were leaving it up to the next fella, but it didn’t happen for us and full credit to Mayo, they took every opportunity.
“If we’re to win a league final, we’re going to have to do better.”
The first-half was a slow-burning affair. Both teams looked content to trade scores and that situation of midway parity was an accurate reflection of a game that failed to ignite. Aidan O’Shea emerged as Mayo’s go-to guy near goal early on and he drew three fouls from Derek Kavanagh inside the opening twelve minutes. Alan Dillon and Conor Mortimer gladly snapped up the opportunities to point frees and Mayo were 0-4 to 0-2 to the good by the 12th minute.
However Cork responded well with the Carbery Rangers pair of Kevin McMahon and John Hayes skilfully registering scores from open play and they were 0-7 to 0-5 ahead nearing the break. Cork’s play out of defence was still laboured though with Chris Barrett and Seamus O’Shea striking supreme scores before the break to bring Mayo to parity.
Their tempo increased a notch or three in the second-half and a series of flowing team moves ripped apart the Cork rearguard. Andy Moran, Alan Dillon and Conor Mortimer all left their fingerprints on scoreboard and they were 0-12 to 0-7 ahead by the 40th minute. In contrast, Cork’s attacking play became stodgy, best encapsulated by the fact that the point Ciaran Sheehan hammered over in the 45th minute was their solitary effort from play in the second-half. That was a tribute to Mayo’s resolute defence as well where Chris Barrett, Donal Vaughan and Trevor Howley were shining lights. The match concluded in a low-key fashion with Mortimer and Aidan O’Shea keeping the scoreboard ticking over sufficiently to ensure comfortable daylight between the sides – at least until their next meeting.
Scorers for Mayo: A Dillon, C Mortimer 0-4 (0-2f) each, A Moran, A O’Shea 0-2 each, C Barrett, D Vaughan, S O’Shea, M Ronaldson 0-1 each.
Scorers for Cork: D O’Connor 0-3 (0-3f), C O’Neill (0-2f), J Hayes, F Goold 0-2 each, K McMahon, C Sheehan 0-1 each.
Substitutes for Mayo: P Harte for Parsons (43), A Freeman for Dillon (67).
Substitutes for Cork: N Murphy for Canty (inj, 28), S Kiely for O’Regan (43), P O’Flynn for McMahon (43), N Galvin for Kavanagh (inj) (54), C O’Driscoll for O’Sullivan (blood) (57), F Lynch for Hayes (61).
Referee: Gearóid O’Conámha (Galway).