Cork dethroned as inspirational Mayo refuse to bow down
Mayo 1-13 Cork 2-6
ALL-IRELAND SFC QUARTER-FINAL
THE memory of their famous recovery against Dublin in the 2006 All-Ireland semi-final warmed many a winter night in Mayo over recent years, but it can now be decommissioned and replaced with tales of even more heroic deeds.
Indeed, when Mayo people delve back through history they will be hard-pushed to locate a more spirited revival than that released between 4.15 and 5.30 in Croke Park yesterday. Truly, a glorious period for Mayo who harnessed a special brand of defiance that initially stunned Cork before knocking them flat out.
In the end, the All-Ireland champions fell off their throne with a dull thud, unable to cope with the relentless power and energy unleashed by Mayo. That such a compelling performance came after an opening 15 minutes when Mayo looked completely out of their depth made it a remarkable afternoon on a number of fronts.
For Mayo, there was the sheer joy of having overcome the odds, the All-Ireland champions and their own early insecurities, while Cork were left wondering how a game that was flowing their way in a sweeping torrent for the first 15 minutes veered wildly in the opposite direction.
There are no ready explanations for why the trend altered so dramatically, but there are some pointers. Cork may have become infected by over-confidence when they led by 1-4 to 0-1 (the goal coming from a Donncha O'Connor penalty in the sixth minute) as it really did look as if they could win just as easily as Kerry had done earlier on.
Cork's movement was good, their passing accurate and their work rate high as they dominated most of the key sectors.
And even when Mayo rallied to score 1-2 (their 22nd-minute goal was a splendid solo effort from Kevin McLoughlin), Cork's response was to strike for a second goal when Paul Kerrigan flicked the ball to the net off a Fiachra Lynch cross in the 24th minute.
It created an impression that it was one of those days when Mayo would course Cork bravely without actually catching up with them.
Cork, it seemed, had matters comfortably in hand and would do enough to stay a safe distance in front and book themselves in for a semi-final date with Kerry on August 21.
Then came the dramatic turnaround, which saw Cork restricted to two points from the 25th minute on while Mayo scored 0-10. They drew level in the 43rd minute and continued to build up the required momentum to see the task through to a successful conclusion.
Cork's only second-half score came from half-back John Miskella, who was one of the few to take the challenge to Mayo -- although he spoiled it all by getting sent off on a straight red card in the 70th minute.
By then, Mayo were defending a four-point lead and doing it extremely effectively, too, funnelling back in front of Robert Hennelly to make sure that Cork didn't break through for a goal. Cork won three '45s' late on but nothing came of them as the packed Mayo defence stood tall and strong.
It will long be a matter of conjecture in Cork as to how they would have fared if they were able to call on injured trio Daniel Goulding, Ciaran Sheehan and Colm O'Neill. Without them, the Cork attack became increasingly ineffective after the early burst of enterprise and were completely shut out in the second half.
Conor Counihan juggled his troops after the break but the back-up made no appreciable difference whereas Mayo subs Jason Doherty, Peadar Gardiner and Ronan McGarrity all added to what was already an impressive cause.
The closest Cork came to rescuing the situation in the second half was when Fintan Goold was presented with a clear goal chance in the 56th minute, but he shot wide at a time when Mayo led by a single point.
A Cork goal at that stage might well have broken Mayo's momentum -- instead the sight of the ball flashing outside the post was a huge boost to the Connacht champions, who pressed on and added three points from there to the finish.
There was so much to admire about Mayo's gutsy fightback and the manner in which they held their nerve under pressure in the second half that they will approach the semi-final with a new-found sense of confidence.
Remarkably, they conceded a total of just four points in the second halves against Galway, Roscommon and Cork, turning half-time deficits into victories in each case.
Their defensive vigilance against Galway and Roscommon didn't really impress the football markets on the basis that the opposition wasn't all that good but they have now managed it against the All-Ireland champions, which is quite an achievement.
Keith Higgins, Donal Vaughan and Richie Feeney were especially impressive yesterday while the O'Shea brothers, Seamus (in the first half) and Aidan (in the second half), also did well at midfield.
Andy Moran, who tormented Michael Shields in the second half, Alan Dillon and McLoughlin raised their game to a level which really troubled the Cork defence; teenager Cillian O'Connor remained solid on free-taking duties and also kicked an excellent point from play while Jason Doherty made an impact when introduced as a sub.
Cork had a well-deserved reputation as strong second-half performers so while Counihan would have been concerned at how a six-point lead after 15 minutes was cut to two by half-time (2-5 to 1-6), he would have expected his experienced warriors to raise the intensity levels in the second half.
Instead, it was Mayo who cranked up through the gears, leaving Cork in their wake.
Every facet of Cork's game became ragged under a level of pressure they would never have anticipated. That they went through the entire half without any of the six starting forwards or two replacements scoring underlined the extent of their systems failure.
But then it was under constant attack from Mayo, whose performance was a major boost for the much-criticised Connacht championship. In the end, Mayo had recorded their first championship win over Cork since 1916, thanks to a power-drive which will have done wonders for their self-esteem.
As for Cork, their term as All-Ireland champions ended in circumstances they would never have anticipated, losing a big lead before running into one of the most barren spells encountered in the championship for a very long time.
Scorers -- Mayo: C O'Connor 0-6 (5f), K McLoughlin 1-1, A Moran, A Varley (1f), R Hennelly ('45'), A Dillon, K Higgins, J Doherty 0-1 each. Cork: D O'Connor (1-0 pen, 0-1 '45'), P Kerrigan 1-2 each, F Goold (1f), J Miskella 0-1 each.
Mayo -- R Hennelly 7; T Cunniffe 7, G Cafferkey 6, K Higgins 8; R Feeney 7, D Vaughan 8, T Mortimer 7; A O'Shea 8, S O'Shea 7; K McLoughlin 8, A Dillon 8, A Moran 9; E Varley 6, A Freeman 7, C O'Connor 7. Subs: J Doherty 7 for Varley (48), P Gardiner 7 for Freeman (58), R McGarrity for S O'Shea (59), A Campbell 6 for McLoughlin (65), L Keegan for Feeney (71).
Cork -- A Quirke 6; M Shields 5, E Cadogan 6, E Cotter 6; N O'Leary 5, J Miskella 7, P Kissane 6; A O'Connor 6, A Walsh 6; F Goold 5, P O'Neill 6, P Kelly 5; P Kerrigan 7, D O'Connor 6, F Lynch 5. Subs: G Canty 6 for O'Leary (37), M Collins 5 for F Lynch (48), N Murphy 5 for O'Connor (62), D O'Sullivan 6 for Goold (64).
REF -- R Hickey (Clare).