Mayo’s football does the talking
THE advocates of the argument that what Mayo needed was what Cork gave them will have appreciated the heart-throbbing finale to this quarter-final. Others will have seen it as too close for comfort, a further tortuous step in Mayo’s quest for the ultimate prize.
It was all of those things, a blend of the contradictions that Mayo bring to their game, moments of rapturous football, moments of muddled concession, and in the end a genuine test of their convictions.
Most of all it was irrefutable evidence of the iron will with which Mayo shook off all the intimidating efforts Cork devised in their bid to disrupt them. And in the dying minutes, when the tremors of defeat were surely burning their consciousness, they found the coolness and mental strength to stand firm.
It was, of course, a victory not without flaws. Having reached heights of excellence in building up what seemed an unassailable lead of seven points by the 13th minute of the second half, the concession of two goals that allowed Cork stage that last nail-biting rally were self-inflicted wounds that demand attention.
The Mayo we saw in the first half was not the Mayo we had come to see. Cork were being allowed set the pace. Their packed defence, with 13 men behind the ball, was a disrupting tactic.
It seemed as if Brian Hurley and Colm O’Neill were dictating the trend, certainly more influential than any of Mayo’s front men, who were not winning whatever ball was directed their way.
It took the adventurous spirit of Seamus O’Shea to settle Mayo somewhat with an uplifting point from his left foot which cut Cork’s lead down to two. Four minutes later he had Mayo ahead with a fisted point.
O’Shea had begun to dig from midfield another of his tireless productions. With singular intensity, he waded through every sort of ploy drummed up to foil him. Nothing worked as, head down, he shrugged off like flies every Cork fist and was a central figure in carving out victory.
The lead alternated on four occasions in that first half, and Mayo were none too impressive. But nuggets of hope were to be seen in the performance of Alan Dillon, who swung over two of his total of four points and was back to his battling best in many a long day.
Surprising changes unannounced in the programme were the introduction of Tom Cunniffe in the half-back line and the move of Donal Vaughan from defence to midfield. While his interventions and his speed off the mark were convincing features of Cunniffe’s solid performance. Nothing, however, in that first half distinguished Vaughan’s new role ... until he burst into prominence after the break.
It was then we saw the Ballinrobe man at his best, bedecking his rebirth with the final pass to Aidan O’Shea for Mayo’s only goal. On occasions, though, you wondered would Vaughan not have been similarly effective from his customary wing back role.
That goal captured the essence of Aidan O’Shea’s qualities. In evaluating a man who has become the inspiration of Mayo football, you find it hard to catalogue all the virtues of his contribution.
Once in the first half, he was grounded while storming through the Cork defence. For that breach of discipline, Tomás Clancy was black-carded. In the second half, O’Shea foiled Ian Maguire in the box after Rob Hennelly brilliantly parried a shot from the Cork man.
And he capped his performance at the other end with the goal that stretched Mayo’s fightback to four points, and was the score that eventually humped them over the line.
But the real test was only then beginning. Sprung from the bench Cork’s Donncha O’Connor answered the call with a total of 1-3, the goal a by-product of an attacking error by Mayo. And when Brian Hurley rammed home a goal in the dying seconds, you felt a replay was the least Mayo might dig out.
Strangely, only two of Cork’s forwards had scored until O’Connor was drafted in. All of Mayo’s front line contributed handsomely to their total. Cillian O’Connor racked up five points, and the hope is that the injury – suspiciously like a hurt shoulder – that forced him to retire will not deprive him of a place in the semi-final.
Jason Doherty fired over a brace, but his biggest contribution was his tackling, filching possession on a few important occasions. Kevin McLoughlin played courageously after receiving a nasty knock that went unpunished.
There were times when it seemed Andy Moran might justifiably be replaced. Ironically, it was just when he had scored a point and seemed to be springing into life that he was rested. More importantly, he was not adequately replaced.
To Lee Keegan fell the task of restraining Paul Kerrigan, and if that curbed his attacking instincts, the Westport man was still outstandingly effective. So, too, was Cunniffe and the indefatigable Colm Boyle.
The full-back line was under intolerable pressure in the final minutes in particular when Cork were allowed to attack too often through the centre. Yet Keith Higgins was impressively efficient, Ger Cafferkey, after a shaky start, blotted out the danger that Hurley posed, and if Chris Barrett was less comfortable when Colm O’Neill switched to that corner, it does not diminish his resilient qualities.
None of Cork’s goals was stoppable, and they might have had three but for the brilliant save by Rob Hennelly from Maguire in the second half.
Now the focus switches to Kerry. That’s for another day.
Minors marching on
THE burgeoning minors set the pace with an overwhelming victory over a disappointing Armagh side. Brilliant though it was, manager Enda Gilvarry will have learned little from it ... other than the satisfaction of having reached the All-Ireland semi-final with a selection that is purring in every section.
Problem is that they were not tested. Armagh’s deficiencies were ruthlessly exposed, and Mayo reach the semi-final against Kerry not quite sure if every position is as solid as it seemed.
It will, however, be a source of satisfaction to management that they have managed to once more weld together a side of some substance, a year after winning Mayo’s first title in close on three decades.
And while a stiffer test would have been preferable than Armagh provided, enabling improvements to be carried out before the semi-final, they will have garnered some satisfaction from the overall performance.
For 20 minutes or so the margin of victory was hardly predictable as both sides traded score for score. Not until corner forward Fionán Duffy found the net in the 25th minute did Mayo begin to pull away.
A couple of strategic changes reinforced their growing dominance after the break. Full-forward TJ Byrne was pulled back to midfield, Cian Hanley took up position in the square and Matthew Ruane took over at centre forward.
The success of those moves was instant, and culminated in corner forward Brian Reape’s breaking through a disjointed defence to rattle in two splendid goals.
Armagh were overwhelmed. Mayo dominated every sector, every member contributing to what was a confident and competent victory.
Just a thought
GALWAY created enough chances to shock Kerry in Sunday’s first quarter-final, but failed to take them. And while Kerry failed to sparkle, they are still Kerry, still capable of grinding out a win against any opposition