Mayo edge past Rebels to set up Kingdom showdown
Mayo 1-19 Cork 2-15
Mayo reached their fourth successive All-Ireland semi-final, but not before Cork made them work hard for their victory in Croke Park today.
The Connacht champions appeared to be coasting to the last four after blitzing the Rebels in the third quarter of the match, but the Munster finalists fought back bravely to drag themselves back into the encounter before ultimately falling short by the slenderest of margins.
Jason Doherty opened the scoring in the quarter-final clash with a tremendous effort from near the sideline despite Cork lining up with their defensive system utilised in the Sligo, with wing forwards Mark Collins and Colm O’Driscoll dropping deep The space created for Brian Hurley and Colm O’Neill in the inside forward line was ruthlessly exploited in the opening period.
Hurley got the Rebels up and running in the fifth minute, converting a close-range free after Tom Cunniffe and Ger Cafferky were deemed to have fouled O’Neill by referee Cormac Reilly.
Cillian O’Connor and Fintan Goold swapped scores while Hurley had Chris Barrett in real difficulties with the Castlehaven attacker demonstrating his early season from in abundance as Brian Cuthbert’s side made the brighter to a physical contest.
After a cagey start from the Connacht champions, four points in succession settled them down as they to re-took with two points each from Seamus O’Shea and O’Connor, including a delightful score with the outside of his foot from the ace corner forward.
In a first half which had a niggly undercurrent throughout, the Munster finalists were dealt a big blow when centre-back Thomas Clancy was black-carded after hauling down Aidan O’Shea as he powered towards the Cork goals, with Damien Cahalane called in as his replacement after just 20 minutes.
A feature of the first half was the standard of long-distance shooting, with scores from O’Neill, Aidan Walsh and Alan Dillon catching the eye for the 37,886 in attendance.
Dillon in particular became a growing influence on the game with clever movement and passing and a brace of points before the half hour moved Mayo into a slender lead.
A trademark score from O’Neill, gaining possession and selling a couple of dummies before slotting over was the final score for the first period.
Similar to the first half it was Doherty who opened the scoring after industrious work from captain Andy Moran and the Rebels appeared mentally to still be in the changing rooms as Mayo took control of proceedings in a dominant third quarter where they outscored the Rebels eight points to one.
While arguing with the referee over a free awarded against Michael Shields, the Cork defence was marked absent as Donal Vaughan raced in and fisted over while Moran added another with Cillian O’Connor screaming for the ball with a goal opportunity.
An O’Neill free was sandwiched between further scores from McLaughlin, Moran, Dillon and O’Connor – their first score from a dead ball in the second period - as Horan’s side dominance was reflected in their seven point lead.
It seemed to kick-start a revival from Cuthbert's men with substitute Donncha O’Connor heavily involved both from play and from placed balls as they reeled off four points in a row to keep their hopes of reaching the last four alive.
Goalkeeper Rob Hennelly was forced into a smart save from Ian Maguire after the rangy midfielder burst through the middle, but O’Connor made no mistake when he levelled matters for the seventh time in the 63rd minute after rifling to the net.
A free from O’Connor was his last involvement in the game to restore a slender lead for the 2012 and 2013 All Ireland finalists before both sides found the net within the space of a minute.
First Aidan O’Shea showed great composure to coolly slot the ball past Ken O’Halloran and it looked to extinguish the Cork challenge, but the response was instant.
Hurley again was twisting and turning in attack and Hennelly was forced to pick the ball out of the net for the second time.
However it was a time for cool heads and experience and Vaughan and Lee Keegan picked off two points to push their advantage back to three points with 70 minutes on the clock, with late frees from O’Neill reducing the deficit to the bare minimum.
There was controversy at the end when O’Neill appeared to consult with referee Cormac Reilly and tapped the simple free over, before blowing up following the resulting kick-out.
Cork players surrounded Reilly after the final whistle but it is Mayo who deservedly advance to take on Kerry in three weeks after Eamon Fitzmaurice's side saw off the challenge of Galway earlier in the day.