Friday 19 January 2018

Five-star showing clinches title for Mayo

Mayo 5-7 Cork 1-14

Mayo's Shairoze Akram in action against Cork's Ryan Harkin
Mayo's Shairoze Akram in action against Cork's Ryan Harkin
Cork's Peter Kelleher in action against Mayo's Seamus Cunniffe during the EirGrid GAA Football Under 21 All-Ireland Championship Final at Cusack Park. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Cork's Seán White in action against Mayo's James Kelly at Cusack Park. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Conor Loftus, Mayo, celebrates after scoring his side's third goal. Photo: Sportsfile
Mayo's Michael Plunkett in action against Cork's Michael McSweeney during the EirGrid GAA Football Under 21 All-Ireland Championship Final. Photo: Seb Daly / Sportsfile

Declan Rooney

Mayo repeated the feat of 10 years ago and defeated Cork in the EirGrid All-Ireland U-21 football final at Cusack Park in Ennis thanks to two goals each for Conor Loftus and Liam Irwin.

Just two points separated the teams in 2006 as the Keith Higgins-captained Mayo men took the win, and this year Stephen Coen led his side to a five-point victory after a goal fest in Ennis.

The game swung just before half-time when Diarmuid O'Connor and Irwin hit goals in injury-time, while another two in the final two minutes of the game from Loftus and Irwin sealed a memorable victory.

Having won the toss and elected to play against the wind, Cork would have been delighted with the first 30 minutes as they led by 0-7 to 0-4 with added-time approaching. But Mayo sensationally turned a three-point deficit into a four-point lead at the interval thanks to O'Connor and Irwin's goals.

Until then Mayo had misfired in front of the posts. Nine wides before the break accumulated as the Mayo attack seemed to freeze in front of goal, with the wrong option often taken or poor execution displayed when the chance was there.

Cork had taken a first-minute lead when Sean O'Donoghue kicked a free, but two good scores from Michael Plunkett and Matthew Ruane, on the run, soon had Mayo in front.

Cork appeared to have figured out the way to beat Mayo in the second quarter. The physically-imposing Brian Coakley and Peter Kelleher loomed large over their markers and the Rebels began to deliver long, diagonal passes into the tall duo. Three points from five unanswered Cork scores came via the aerial route and four minutes from the break Cork led by 0-7 to 0-4.

But the persistent play of Shairoze Akram led to O'Connor fisting to the net at the back post for Mayo in the 31st minute, and after Irwin kicked a huge free off the ground, he blasted Mayo's second goal three minutes into injury-time.

There was no way Mayo deserved to be four points clear at the break considering their sloppiness in front of goal and Cork put a more realistic twist on the scoreboard with a couple of quick points.

Mayo needed to settle and a well-struck 45 from Irwin put three points between the teams, and their hopes of victory were given a huge lift in the 37th minute when Loftus curled a fabulous shot into Anthony Casey's top corner for a five-point lead.

Cork scores were likeliest to come from a high ball into the square, but it was from a mis-hit O'Donoghue 45 that Kelleher punched to the net 13 minutes from time to renew their hopes.

A free from Coakley was matched by one at the other end from Loftus, but Cork drew level with six minutes to go after Michael Hurley and Coakley pointed.

But two minutes from time Plunkett robbed a short Cork kick-out and hit the top corner again, before Irwin punched to the empty net in the 60th minute to seal the win.

Scorers - Mayo: C Loftus 2-2 (2f), L Irwin 2-2 (1f, 1'45), D O'Connor 1-0, M Plunkett 0-2, M Ruane 0-1.

Cork: B Coakley 0-5 (3f), S O'Donoghue 0-4 (3f, 1'45), P Kelleher 1-0, R Harkin 0-2, S Powter, M Hurley, R O'Toole 0-1.

Mayo: M Flanagan; E O'Donoghue, S Cunniffe, D Kenny; S Akram, M Hall, J Kelly; M Ruane, S Coen; F Boland, C Loftus, D O'Connor; L Irwin, F Duffy, M Plunkett. Subs: J Carr for Duffy (43), B Duffy for Kelly (57), M Lyons for Plunkett (57).

Cork: A Casey; M McSweeney, J Millins, K Histon; E Lavers, S Cronin, K Flahive; P Kelleher, R O'Toole; S White, S Powter, R Harkin; B Coakley, S O'Donoghue, M Hurley. Subs: S O'Leary for O'Toole (38), D O Duinin for White (46 BC), C Kiely for Harkin (53), S Sherlock for Hurley (58), D Quinn for McSweeney (62).

Referee: Padraig Hughes (Armagh).

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