Wednesday 21 March 2018

Five-star Mayo show true grit to seal All-Ireland glory

Mayo 5-7 Cork 1-14

Mayo players celebrate with the cup in the dressing room after winning the EirGrid All-Ireland Under 21 football final Photo: Sportsfile
Mayo players celebrate with the cup in the dressing room after winning the EirGrid All-Ireland Under 21 football final Photo: Sportsfile
Mayo’s Liam Irwin celebrates after scoring his side’s second goal in their win against Cork Photo: Sportsfile
Conor Loftus, Mayo, scores his side's third goal, despite the efforts of Michael McSweeney Photo: Sportsfile
Peter Kelleher, Cork, takes a shot at goal but sees the ball rebound off the post Photo: Sportsfile
Mayo captain Stephen Coen lifts the cup following his team's victory Photo: Sportsfile
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

Mayo and All-Ireland finals don't make for a great mix. Late in the first half, it felt like they were at it again. Nine wides, just four scores and a three-point deficit was their lot. It felt like more of the same old story.

Coming on the back of losing junior, intermediate and senior club finals in 2016 the U-21s looked like they were going to follow suit.

In that case, the questions would have to be asked, the questions that irk Mayo people about bad wides and an extraordinary losing record in finals.

But this team were determined to show they are different. They found a way to win even when things weren't going their way.

In first-half injury-time, they hit 2-1 in just over two minutes to take a 2-5 to 0-7 lead in at the break. It set up a thrilling second half with Cork pulling themselves back level with three minutes to play.

Once again, Mayo went on a scoring burst. Two goals in 90 seconds sealed the county's first All-Ireland at the grade in a decade.

It was no once-off either. This Mayo side had dug themselves out of holes in the Connacht decider and the All-Ireland semi-final. Against Roscommon, they didn't lead until three minutes from time. They trailed Dublin by four late in the day but still survived.

"They are all brilliant teams, to come back against them was great," star forward Conor Loftus offered afterwards.

"It is because of the bond that we have. We never feel that we are under serious pressure because we know if we keep playing our game and stick to the process we will be there or thereabouts. Thankfully we got the break."

"It made it a completely different game," Loftus said of their injury-time scoring burst. "If we had been three points down at half-time ... without them two goals we could have been in trouble against that breeze.

"Thank God we got them because it gave us momentum. Even still, they came out to kick the first two points so it was lucky enough we had that bit of a gap. It took the pressure off us slightly because we let them into it a bit too much."

They were winners as minors too but had endured tragedy since. A starter from the 2013 team, Darragh Doherty, was lost to a road accident.

Midfielder Matthew Ruane referenced his team-mate afterwards. This was a group that had been through a lot. That they found a way out of the mire shouldn't have been a surprise.

"We felt we were doing a lot right, a lot of the stuff we had planned for," Mayo boss Mike Solan said.


"We felt it was coming good for us, but unfortunately we just weren't finishing off the moves. We felt if we were to tighten up a little on our shot selection, on the areas we were shooting from, that we might have a bit more joy.

"The goals before half-time gave us a great cushion to try to push on a bit. Credit to Cork, they pushed us all the way, the goals from the lads towards the end gave us a bit of breathing space."

Cork had done so much right but they insisted on leaving the back door open. In imposing full-forward Peter Kelleher, they have found a gem.

Havoc reigned in the Mayo full-back line when even the ugliest of ball came his way. He grabbed their goal and might have had another one but for a brilliant save.

Afterwards, manager Sean Hayes identified first-half injury-time as the key passage in the game. They were too open at he back and gave goalkeeper Anthony Casey little cover.

"We gave away seven points in about three minutes, but I thought in fairness they battled back at the start of the second-half, another team would have just dropped the head," Hayes said.

"They didn't, they re-grouped and came again. They let in another goal and came back again. I thought when we drew level, my heart was up, I thought we were going to come out the other side but the two goals we let in, you are not going to come back from that with two minutes to go.

"So Mayo won, and that's it. That's life - I am proud of that team since we started at the start of the year," Hayes continued. "This is our fifth day in a row. We have beaten good teams on the way.

"And even against a good team today, we have battled back two or three times. When your luck isn't in, your luck isn't in and those things turn against you and there's nothing you can do about it."

It was Mayo's day. Thousands spilled onto the pitch in Ennis afterwards to salute their heroes.

"People talk about Mayo and finals," Solan said. "We didn't buy into that, I would never buy into that. Anything that happened in any other year gone by had zero relevance on what happened.

"Some brilliant footballers have been unearthed in the past few years. You still have a lot of the minor squad from 2013, these boys have a great attitude, I'm going to say there is long careers ahead for them, hopefully long, successful careers."

SCORERS - Mayo: L Irwin (1 45, 1f), C Loftus (2f) 2-2 each, D O'Connor 1-0, M Plunkett 0-2, M Ruane 0-1. Cork: B Coakley 0-5 (3f), S O'Donoghue (3f, 1 '45) 0-4, P Kelleher 1-0, R Harkin 0-2, M Hurley, R O'Toole, S Powter 0-1 each.
Mayo - M Flanagan; E O'Donoghue, S Cunniffe, D Kenny; M Plunkett, M Hall, S Akram; M Ruane, S Coen; F Boland, C Loftus, D O'Connor; L Irwin, J Kelly, F Duffy. Subs: J Carr for Duffy (44), M Lyons for Plunkett, B Duffy for Kelly (both 56).
Cork - A Casey; M McSweeney, J Mullins, E Lavers; K Flahive, S Cronin, K Histon; S White, R O'Toole; S O'Donoghue, S Powter, R Harkin; B Coakley, P Kelleher, M Hurley. Subs: S O'Leary for O'Toole (39), D O Duinin for White (BC 45), C Kiely for Harkin (52), S Sherlock for Hurley (57), D Quinn for McSweeney (60).
Ref: P Hughes (Armagh).

Irish Independent

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