Mayo show steel to thwart Cork

THE ability of the Mayo footballers to confound their critics took yet another twist yesterday as they summoned up a courageous effort to ambush Cork at McHale Park, Castlebar.

Jason Doherty’s sixth goal in four games proved the game-breaking score when the dust finally settled after a lively match where there was no shortage of craft or graft.

The only goal of the game was the highlight of Mayo’s third quarter scoring burst which yielded 1-4 without reply and Cork’s determined late rally came up just short.

The result meant that, despite not scoring for the final 20 minutes, Mayo had picked up the two points they needed to guarantee their top-flight status next season.

Cork, meanwhile, must now beat Armagh on Sunday in order to get a shot at defending their league title against Dublin later this month.

It was obvious from the early stages that Mayo had worked hard at improving their defensive play after their recent tribulations at Croke Park.

The sides were level on four occasions during a lively first-half before points from James Kilcullen and Jason Doherty edged wind-assisted Mayo into a 0-7 to 0-6 lead at the interval.

Cork failed to make use of the strong breeze after the restart, however, and five unanswered points from Daniel Goulding (three) and John Miskella (two) in the final quarter proved too little, too late.

“Obviously we’re disappointed,” was Conor Counihan’s initial reaction afterwards.

“We couldn’t have any cribs about the result, the better team won. At half-time we were in a reasonable position.

“I knew coming up, with the home crowd, it’s very difficult if a team gets their nose in front at all. It’s hard to peg it back.

“There was a period there shortly after half-time when we conceded 1-4 and we left ourselves too much to do.”

His Mayo counterpart, James Horan, was understandably pleased with the performance, and the result, as he mingled with the home supporters afterwards.

“The second-half was always going to be a real battle with Cork having the wind, and coming at us, and kicking points,” he said. “All the momentum was with them for a while, so it was tough at that stage.

“But we held out very well, I thought, and broke out of defence very well and got a few vital scores in the second-half. We always kept our noses in front, which was important, and we closed out the game pretty well.”

Mayo’s second victory of an indifferent league campaign was built on the foundation of a well-organised defence where tenacious defending from Tom Cunniffe, Ger Cafferkey, Keith Higgins and Lee Keegan made life difficult for Messrs Kerrigan, O’Neill, Goulding and Gould.

Along with a little help from Kevin McLoughlin, who played as a sweeper, Mayo’s backs restricted Cork’s attack to just six points from play and managed to keep a clean sheet for only the second time this season.

The visitors also missed Aidan Walsh’s presence around the middle as Alan O’Connor and James Fitzpatrick had their hands full with Mayo’s new pairing of Aidan O’Shea and James Kilcullen.

“I think we did okay,” commented James Horan.

“I still think there’s another step, another level, of intensity that we need to get to. But we definitely improved in a huge amount of areas.

“The start was one area. We tightened up in defence too, our tackling, slowing runners down and that always keeps you in a game.

“We managed to get a few very good scores, build up a lead and we saw it out from there.”

A string of inspirational points from Aidan O’Shea, Alan Dillon (three frees), Cillian O’Connor and Alan Freeman were the scores that accompanied Jason Doherty’s soccer-style goal during the third quarter.

Remarkably, they failed to score again but managed to keep Cork at arm’s length down the home stretch.

“I’d like to think they were impressive because, if they weren’t, I don’t know where that leaves us,” smiled Conor Counihan as he prepared to board the bus home.

Scorers for Mayo: A Dillon 0-5 (4f), J Doherty 1-1, A Moran, J Kilcullen 0-2 each, A O’Shea, C O’Connor (1f), A Freeman 0-1 each.

Scorers for Cork: D Goulding 0-7 (5f), P O’Neill, J Miskella 0-2 each, P Kerrigan, F Lynch, S Kiely 0-1 each.

Subs for Mayo: E Reilly for Cunniffe (inj), J Gibbons for Kilcullen, E Varley for O’Connor, A Campbell for Dillon (inj), P Gardiner for Keegan.

Subs for Cork: J Miskella for O’Driscoll, D O’Sullivan for Kiely, P O’Flynn for Fitzpatrick.

Referee: R Hickey (Clare).

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