Mayo 0-27 Cork 2-20 (AET): It’s taken for granted now but Mayo feel compelled to remind us quite regularly that this is not a journey they’re on but an odyssey.
Stephen Rochford figures it more Robert Louis Stevenson than Homer – “Jekyll and Hyde” he considered this run through the qualifiers – but nobody can say they aren’t being entertained.
This shouldn’t have been such an epic encounter. They were seven points to the good 11 minutes into the second half – 0-14 to 0-7 – and six – 0-17 to 0-11 – with 15 minutes left in normal time. Their footballers were performing better. They were standing too as Cork’s were breaking down with injuries.
It would be remiss to suggest that Mayo allowed Cork back into the game. Against the team that refuses to die, the last sting of the Peadar Healy era was a potent one. They landed two goals, the first of them a peach from the stunning Seán Powter, and could have had two more.
Reviewing the game yesterday, Rochford may agree that Lee Keegan’s black card – an “indiscretion” the manager admitted didn’t help Mayo – combined with Colm Boyle’s substitution five minutes previously mutated their half-back line. But he was keen to highlight Cork’s capabilities too. “Cork created five goal chances in the Munster final. Didn’t capitalise on them. They capitalised on two that they created today.
“Believe you me, Cork have taken a bit of a battering over the last couple of weeks and maybe not all of it fair. They’re a damn good team and damn good teams run at you and any of them are going to cause you a problem.”
Powter’s virtuoso score in the 55th minute was followed by a John O’Rourke wide when he was facing down David Clarke. Still, O’Rourke added three second-half points, the last of them cutting the margin to one and coming after Clarke had to deflect a Tomás Clancy goal attempt over the bar on the hour mark.
It was clear the runs of Powter and Ruairí Deane were hurting Mayo but they rallied once more and led by three going into additional time when Luke Connolly found himself free and slipped the ball under Clarke.
And just when Patrick Durcan appeared to have won the game when landing a long-range point, a free was brought forward into Connolly’s range and he floated it over from beyond the 45-metre line to force extra-time.
In doing just that, Cork, a team forsaken by their county if their dismal representation among the Mayo-dominated 15,545 crowd in the Gaelic Grounds was anything to go by, had not defied a scroll of injuries both before and during the match but the doomsayers too.
They even found themselves ahead after the first extra-time period, 2-19 to 0-24, having been two to the good on a couple of occasions as captain Paul Kerrigan found a new lease of life.
That travails were beginning to take their toll, though, and Mayo hit them for three points in a row after the turnaround, beginning with a Keith Higgins fisted point and a point from play and a 45 from the impressive Cillian O’Connor. Michael Hurley fired back but he then missed an opportunity and Seán White another as Cork eventually relented.
Beads of sweat clung to Rochford’s brow as he addressed the press afterwards. “Relief,” he said, was his overriding emotion. His team don’t appear to like making things easy for themselves but he couldn’t argue with the result. “To be honest, I don’t know what was left on the clock when we went six up but we had ourselves well positioned and then for whatever reason, we switched off twice and they created the goal chances and they punished us.
“We positioned ourselves playing well but when you concede two goals when the game is almost in touching distance is a little bit disappointing. But we live to fight another day.”
The extra 20 minutes, he felt, were “unnecessary” when the game was Mayo’s to close out. Few goal chances had come their way and Donncha O’Connor was rolling back the years for Cork but Mayo’s conversion rate was high and they led 0-10 to 0-7 at half-time. Aidan O’Shea and Cillian O’Connor with Andy Moran and Jason Doherty as accomplices had been too hot for Cork. Indeed Jamie O’Sullivan was black carded for a cynical foul on O’Shea.
The influence of O’Shea continued into the second half as Cork scrambled to rebalance themselves having lost O’Sullivan as well as James Loughrey and Aidan Walsh to injury. It wasn’t until the 48th minute that they broke their second-half duck by which stage Mayo had scored four points on the trot. A couple from O’Rourke help to bring Cork to within three then only for O’Connor, O’Shea and Moran posted scores before Powter’s goal triggered the madness.
“We gotta be a lot more effective,” insisted Rochford as Mayo now focus on Roscommon on Sunday. “You’re coming up against a confident bunch and we got a massive challenge. No doubt, having played additional time in that warm weather will ask questions of us but at the same time we’re back when we wanted to be. There’s nobody ahead of us so far as the race so we’ll take that on and we look forward to it.”
For Healy, the anticipation of life away from the limelight will please him but he leaves safe in the knowledge his team “went to the gut” for this display. “We’re trying to encourage them to express themselves. It’s in them, just to keep dragging it out of them. Keep reassuring them that it’s going to happen soon . The work these lads put in, it’s phenomenal. It’s just crazy.
“You just have to go out there with your gut every day and I hope they learn something from today.
“That’s Cork’s kind of a game there, the running game. Like, how many times would you say we got through the Mayo defence and ran at them? Powter, in particular, was outstanding. I think he should have got man of the match. Maybe I’m biased but anyway...”
Scorers for Mayo:
C. O’Connor (0-11, 4 frees, 1 45), A. Moran (0-4); A. O’Shea (0-3); P. Durcan, C. Loftus (0-2 each); L. Keegan, T. Parsons, J. Doherty, K. Higgins, D. O’Connor (0-1 each).
Scorers for Cork:
D. O’Connor (0-6, 4 frees); L. Connolly (1-1, 0-1 free); S. Powter (1-0 each); J. O’Rourke, P. Kerrigan, C. O’Neill (1 free) (0-3 each); M. Hurley (0-2); B. O’Driscoll, T. Clancy (0-1 each).
D. Clarke 7; B. Harrison 7, G. Cafferkey 6; C. Barrett 7; L. Keegan 6, K. Higgins 7, C. Boyle 8; S. O’Shea 6, T. Parsons 7; K. McLoughlin 8, A. O’Shea 9, D. O’Connor 7; J. Doherty 8, C. O’Connor (c) 9, A. Moran 8.
P. Durcan 8 for C. Barrett (44); S. Coen 6 for S. O’Shea (49); D. Vaughan 7 for C. Boyle (53); D. Drake 7 for L. Keegan (black, 58); C. Crowe 6 for G. Cafferkey (83); E. Regan 5 for K. McLoughlin, C. Boyle for J. Doherty (e-t h-t); A. Dillon 6 for D. O’Connor (87).
R. Price 7; J. Loughrey 6, J. O’Sullivan 5, M. Shields 6; T. Clancy 7, E. Cadogan 6, C. O’Driscoll 6; A. Walsh 6, I. Maguire 7; M. Collins 7, S. Powter 9, J. O’Rourke 8; B. O’Driscoll 7; P. Kerrigan (c) 7, D. O’Connor 8.
K. Crowley 7 for J. Loughrey (inj 20); S. Cronin 6 for J. O’Sullivan (black, 35+1); R. Deane 8 for A. Walsh (inj, 39); C. O’Neill 7 for M. Shields (46); L. Connolly 7 for B. O’Driscoll (57); M. Hurley 8 for D. O’Connor (62); A. O’Connor 6 for I. Maguire, S. White 7 for J. O’Rourke (e-t); C. Dorman 6 for K. Crowley (inj 75); K. O’Driscoll 6 for S. Powter (inj, 83).
C. Branagan (Down).
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved