Cork were trailing by two points to Mayo at Páirc Uí Rinn in the dying seconds when Conor Dorman sprang the westerners’ defence, soloing clear down the right.
The centre-back kept his head, bore down on goal and at the last second flicked the ball across for Brian Hurley to punch home the match-winning goal.
Cork manager Brian Cuthbert was quick to pay tribute to his players’ spirit, as, not for the first time this campaign, they turned a deficit into two League points: “We played very well in the first twenty minutes, I thought, but then we took our foot off the gas and gave Mayo the initiative.
“With them two points ahead you were probably thinking there’d only be one winner, so I’m very happy to see us get that goal. The players are showing good belief and that’s important.
In the green and red corner joint manager Pat Holmes put a brave face on a sickening defeat.
“We recovered well after that start, the lads worked really hard, and we were a point up at half-time, two points up with half a minute left. We came down to put in a big performance, and we did that, so we’re happy from that point of view, just disappointed not to get something out of the game.”
Both men were right to refer to the game’s beginning. Cork faced the breeze and withdrew Mark Collins outfield from his full-forward berth, with Donal Vaughan picking him up.
On the other side Mayo began Aidan O’Shea at midfield rather than centre forward, but he and Tom Parsons alternated on the forty, while Alan Dillon drifted outfield to create space in front of the Cork goal.
Cork were 1-2 to no score ahead in the eighth minute: that was when Mayo defender Keith Higgins beat Brian Hurley to a ball in the corner but Hurley recovered to intercept the corner-back’s handpass, made ground, and Mark Collins first-timed his club-mate’s hand pass to the net.
Mayo rallied strongly, with Aidan O’Shea and Tom Parsons leading the charge, hitting six points in a row - and three wides - to underline their superiority in the centre of the field and take the lead.
Their physical strength between the 45-metre lines gave them a clear advantage, and it was no surprise when Mark Ronaldson’s towering effort on 27 minutes put them one ahead.
A late Donal Vaughan point was answered by Cork’s Tomas Clancy punching over to end a 27-minute scoring famine for the home side, leaving the score 1-3 to 0-7.
Cork improved on the resumption - though O’Shea hit another Mayo point, Cork hit back with three points in a row, with sub Donncha O’Connor’s free edging Cork ahead on 48 minutes.
O’Connor and fellow sub Paddy Kelly helped the home side retain possession around the middle of the field, ably backed by Eoin Cadogan, in at midfield for an injured Jamie O’Sullivan.
Still, Mayo looked the more likely winners. Tom Parsons tied it up heading into the third quarter, and with five minutes left Kevin McLoughlin lifted the Cork siege, soloing upfield to put Mayo one ahead.
Sub Stephen Coen’s point soon afterwards looked the insurance score, but then came Cork’s late surge for victory.
The late blaze of excitement is likely to remain with observers longer than memories of the preceding seventy minutes, which saw several melees break out and plenty of cynicism on display, not to mention some flawed free-taking and errant passes.
Cork boss Cuthbert acknowledged the quality on display but pointed to the league table.
“The way the division is, you have to go after the home games. It looked poor there at times and we have to hold our hands up there certainly, it wasn’t our best performance, but the team got a win, and that’s all you want.
“There’s not much point playing free-flowing football if you don’t get the two points - the Kerry game, the Dublin game and the Mayo game were three big ones for us.”
B. Hurley (1-1); M. Collins (1-0); F. Goold (0-2); C. Dorman, T. Clancy, C. O’Neill (free) and D. O’Connor (free, 0-1 each).
T. Parsons (0-3); J. Doherty (0-2, one free) and K. McLoughlin (0-2, one free); D. Vaughan, A. O’Shea, D. Kirby, M. Ronaldson and S. Coen (0-1 each.)
D. O’Connor for Collins (bs 15-17); E. Cadogan for O’Sullivan (21); P. Kelly for C. O’Driscoll (43); D. O’Connor for Kerrigan (46); J. O’Rourke for Collins (52); D. Goulding for O’Neill (57); J. Hayes for K. O’Driscoll (63).
M. Conroy for Dillon (46); C. O’Shea for Conroy (46, bc); M. Sweeney for Ronaldson (54); S. Coen for Keane (56); A. Freeman for Moran (63); A. Moran for Kirby (70).
E. Kinsella (Laois).