Like Kerry at the same quarter-final stage last year, they were attempting to win without key personnel.
But with the nugget of facing their neighbours on offer, there should have been enough impetus to cross the line.
The motivation was there but the fight in the Cork players certainly was gallingly absent as they lost for the first time in the championship in seven years to a team other than the Kingdom.
These men who steamrolled a path to the greatest prize last year were the road-kill in yesterday’s second-half, going down to a team that had not won in Croke Park since 2006.
When it was put up to them by an ultimately hungrier and more cohesive side, Cork had no answer.
Mayo had form for nullifying teams in second-halves albeit with the help of the elements. Galway had been restricted to a solitary point. Roscommon had been held to two.
But Cork? In Croke Park?
The All-Ireland champions can now be added to the pile of teams Mayo have shut-out after the half-time break with John Miskella’s 52nd minute fisted point proving to be their only score.
Admittedly, they also had six wides and Fintan Goold’s poorly executed goal attempt in the 56th minute after he was put through by Mark Collins was a major turning point.
At that stage, Cork had lost the lead for the first time in the game. An Enda Varley free two minutes into the second-half followed by a Rob Hennelly ‘45 brought the sides level, 2-5 to 1-8.
Fuelled on momentum and the massive gains they were making in the middle of the park, Alan Dillon finished off Mayo’s best score of the game.
After a number of players had advanced the ball calmly and assuredly down the left wing, the prodigious Cillian O’Connor laid off to Dillon who struck it over with ease.
Miskella’s response was absorbed quickly when Keith Higgins sped through before steadying himself and pointing in the 55th minute.
What was most disappointing from a Cork point of view was the space and time the corner-back got to take the shot.
It put Mayo ahead for the first time — 1-10 to 2-6 — and they didn’t look back. Although Goold had managed to get through, it was obvious even at that early juncture that Cork were running out of ideas.
With their more than deliberate build-up play, Cork were playing into Mayo’s hands. Their power running, which so often compensated for it, never got started.
Paddy Kelly, their one true playmaker, was never given the latitude to exert himself on the game but then Cork’s midfield weren’t providing him with much possession either.
Unlike last weekend against Down, Donncha O’Connor didn’t get the same level of service and he was finding Tom Cunniffe a sticky marker.
At the other end, Michael Shields was finding Andy Moran more than a handful. Indeed, Mayo’s last score in the 65th minute came by way of an O’Connor free after Shields had fouled the Ballaghaderreen man.
Preceding that score, substitute Jason Doherty and O’Connor picked off a point each from play, the net results of some Trojan work around the centre.
Granted, Mayo were systematically fouling to keep their foot on Cork’s necks but it was Miskella who lashed out and saw red in the 70th minute to end a torrid day for the champions.
And yet it had looked so good for them in the early stages when Mayo were picking up yellow cards — three in the first 24 minutes — and the scores were going over.
Ger Cafferkey was the first name to go in Rory Hickey’s book in the fifth minute when he upended O’Connor who couldn’t have tucked away his penalty any better.
The other place-taking O’Connor responded with a free after Moran was fouled by Noel O’Leary. But with Alan O’Connor lording the centre, there was only one team in it.
O’Connor and Kerrigan scored from play within seconds of one another and then Goold added a free after Cafferkey illegitimately stopped Fiachra Lynch.
Kerrigan then had a goal-bound shot blocked by Higgins but with O’Connor following up with the resultant 45 putting them 1-4 to 0-1 ahead all was looking rosy for Cork.
Even when Mayo replied with 1-2 without response, they kept their cool. After an O’Connor free, Kevin McLoughlin tagged on a point and then cut through the Cork cover in the 22nd minute to send the ball hurtling past Alan Quirke and into the net.
Eoin Cadogan and Lynch had been made to look ordinary by the dashing McLoughlin but Cork came up with another of their own when Kerrigan got a glancing touch to a Lynch pass to beat Hennelly three minutes later.
But it was Mayo who finished out the half the stronger. Kerrigan’s second point was the only thing Cork had to offer against a couple of O’Connor frees and a point from the brilliant Moran.
It did seem at that stage that it was a portent of things to come. But it was.
Scorers for Mayo: C O’Connor 0-6 (5f); K McLoughlin 1-1; A Moran, E Varley (f), R Hennelly (45), A Dillon, K Higgins, J Doherty 0-1 each.
Scorers for Cork: D O’Connor (1-0 pen, 0-1 45), P Kerrigan 1-2 each; F Goold (f), J Miskella 0-1 each.
Subs for Mayo: J Doherty for Freeman (48); P Gardiner for Freeman (58); R McGarrity for S O’Shea (59); A Campbell for McLoughlin (65); L Keegan for Feeney (71).
Subs for Cork: G Canty for O’Leary (37); M Collins for Lynch (48); N Murphy for A O’Connor (61); D O’Sullivan for Goold (64).
Referee: Rory Hickey (Clare).