Cork stand up to be counted

It might have been the third of its kind in as many years but never has this Cork team given a clearer message that they are not to be messed with.

In a fractious and pretty forgettable affair, Mayo attempted to put it up to their opponents in the physical stakes but found themselves wanting.

Cruiserweights grappling heavyweights, Mayo could only muster two points in the second half, a far cry from their shut-out of Cork in last year’s All-Ireland quarter-final when they conceded a solitary point.

Three minutes into the new half, Cork had trebled that forgettable tally of last July and with goals from Colm O’Neill and Aidan Walsh they made this game their own.

They had struggled, mind. Four points down at the break, it wasn’t so much the wind factor as their own failings that put them in such a position. But on the back of their defence, namely the nigh on impenetrable full-back line, they recovered.

The image of Eoin Cadogan brushing off tackle after tackle as he cleared his lines will be one of the most indelible memories from this year’s Division 1 final.

They had a bit of fortune too. When Lee Keegan sprinted through on goal in the 55th minute, Pearse O’Neill appeared to touch the Mayo defender’s back as he fell and lost control of the ball.

Maurice Deegan saw no foul though, and the ball was quickly transferred towards the Canal End, Fintan Goold’s effort hitting the post before being pounced on by the alert Aidan Walsh, whose deflected shot beat David Clarke.

The score put Cork five to the good and they finished the game out with the same cushion thanks to a sweet Daniel Goulding right-footed point matching a Conor Mortimer free.

To see a player of Goulding’s calibre take another step on the road to full recovery gladdened the heart but this game was hardly an advertisement for the sport.

Ugly is a fitting description for a lot of it. It certainly summed up the unsightly flashpoints such as Graham Canty and Donal Vaughan’s flare-up as well as Noel O’Leary mercilessly pulling up Vaughan after he had been the victim of a heavy collision with Eoin Cadogan. Vaughan himself had deservedly gone in the book for a late challenge on Cadogan earlier.

But such was the amount of cynical tackling, Deegan could have had his pick of cautions, settling in the end for eight. Cork were the biggest transgressors in the opening stages, Cillian O’Connor booting over Mayo’s first four points all from frees.

A couple of well-taken points from Goold brought the defending champions into the game before Aidan Higgins began and finished a move covering three-quarters of the field with a fine score.

Mayo added a couple more from play in quick succession, via O’Connor and Vaughan, to push them four points ahead.

A Donncha O’Connor free as well as a fortuitous one from Canty, which bounced before going over the bar, saw Cork halve that deficit.

However, Mayo restored it when Moran posted a point from long-range and O’Connor punished the aforementioned foul on Vaughan.

Mayo’s 0-9 to 0-5 lead had vanished nine minutes into the second-half when Donncha O’Connor followed the example of his midfielders and Paddy Kelly.

The Ballydesmond man was involved in what happened next as well, fisting a well-placed hand-pass across to O’Neill, who struck the ball emphatically into the net.

A Kevin McLoughlin point bridged a 16-minute gap to their last score but any hopes of it kicking off a revival were dashed when Keegan’s promising foray forward was halted and Walsh tucked home his side’s second goal to push Cork 2-9 to 0-10 ahead.

Cork will be unhappy with their wide count of 12. Their start yesterday was hardly as slow as it was here 12 months ago but will give Conor Counihan food for thought.

But his defence’s performance, Goulding’s second substitute appearance — not to mention word of Ciarán Sheehan lining out for Éire Óg on Saturday — are most definitely sources of optimism.

Yet for a team which has treated the sport’s secondary competition so nobly, it was sad to hear the silence that greeted the final whistle. Economic factors or not, stay away supporters have long been a feature of Cork’s senior footballers.

Still, the message from Counihan was they don’t care.

And why should they if they keep on winning?

Scorers for Cork: C O’Neill, A Walsh 1-0 each; P O’Neill, F Goold, D O’Connor (1f) 0-2 each; G Canty (1f), A O’Connor, P Kelly, D Goulding 0-1 each.

Scorers for Mayo: C O’Connor 0-6 (5f); A Higgins, D Vaughan, A Moran, K McLoughlin, C Mortimer (1f) 0-1 each.

Subs for Cork: B O’Driscoll for Walsh (temp 57-65); N Murphy for O’Connor, D Goulding for C O’Neill (both 64); O’Driscoll for P O’Neill (68).

Subs for Mayo: P Harte for Gibbons (40); E Varley for Conroy (47); D Geraghty for Harte (temp 50-51); Geraghty for B Moran (56); J Doherty for O’Connor (60); R Feeney for Dillon (68).

Referee: Maurice Deegan (Cork).

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