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Hope springs eternal for Mayo

Sport

It all works out in the end


Ice-cool O’Connor points Mayo back to Croke Park

Division 1
Mayo 0-11
Cork 0-10

Mike Finnerty
Cork

THIS League campaign has been many things from a Mayo perspective but dull is certainly not a word that can be used to sum up their adventures, trials and tribulations over the last two months.
Last Sunday’s nail-biting, action-packed and dramatic victory over Cork was no exception; Mayo allowing their hosts a six-point head-start before giving chase and eventually reeling the league champions back in down the stretch.
Two spectacular sideline kicks (one from each wing) from Cillian O’Connor in the 59th and 63rd minutes proved to be the match-winning scores, but this was one of those typically unpredictable Mayo performances where they toyed with our emotions before eventually getting the job done.
This victory, only Mayo’s third of a topsy-turvy campaign, proved enough to stave off the threat of relegation while also ensuring that they snatched a place in the semi-finals for the third time in the last four seasons.
James Horan couldn’t have planned it any better, especially with six weeks still remaining to the Connacht championship collision with Galway.
The Mayo manager would be the first to admit though (most likely in private) that his team could just as easily be returning to the training ground this week having been relegated.
That they managed to eke out the win they needed to preserve their 15-year unbroken run in the top-tier of this competition owes much to their collective work ethic and composure, not to mention the individual heroics of the outstanding Kevin McLoughlin and Cillian O’Connor.
The team’s character and determination in the face of an early Cork onslaught also stood them in good stead on a day when Páirc Ui Chaoimh was buffeted by wind and splashed by rain.
Once again, Mayo did things the hard way, falling six points behind after 25 minutes against the strong wind, before launching a trademark rescue mission and being roared home by their 1,000-strong band of travelling fans.
Cork were utterly dominant during that period, driving forward in waves, and establishing a 0-7 to 0-1 lead by the 24th minute as Aidan Walsh, Fintan Goold and Daniel Goulding all scored from play, and the latter duo also tacked on frees.
Mayo had opened the scoring stylishly after 90 seconds through Kevin McLoughlin but 25 minutes then elapsed before the Knockmore link-man added to his team’s tally as they struggled to break down an organised and disciplined Cork rearguard.
The wind was certainly a factor, but so too were unforced errors while the breaking ball statistics would not have made pleasant reading for the Mayo management either.
Eventually though the promptings of Lee Keegan, Colm Boyle, Kevin McLoughlin and Cillian O’Connor began to pay off and three points in the last eight minutes of the half kickstarted the Mayo revival.  
The industrious Mickey Conroy clipped a fine score before Aidan O’Shea did likewise, and Alan Freeman showed his ball-winning capability when firing over the Cork crossbar with a half-chance of a goal beckoning.
This late flurry meant that Cork only led by 0-8 to 0-5 at the break after failing to harness the wind fully, a fact that James Horan admitted “probably did it for us in the end”.
The roving Donal Vaughan swung over an inspirational point from the right wing soon after the restart to quicken Mayo’s revival, and from there to the finish it was anybody’s game.
The match’s watershed moment arrived on 47 minutes when Mayo captain David Clarke made a fine save with his legs to deny Fintan Goold a goal that could have been decisive at a crucial stage.
Clarke’s intervention certainly seemed to galvanise his team-mates and in the last 20 minutes they outscored Cork by four points to one, substitute Richie Feeney helping the likes of Kevin McLoughlin, Lee Keegan, Colm Boyle, Jason Gibbons and the O’Shea brothers with the heavy lifting.
Two points from McLoughlin (one free) levelled the match for only the second time with 17 minutes to go, only for Daniel Goulding to nudge Cork ahead again with a wonderful free from an acute angle.
Mayo though were pouring forward, hunting in packs, and Cillian O’Connor’s two memorable points from the left and right sidelines turned out to be the game-breaking scores.
Cork did have a string of chances to carve out an equaliser, but were unable to take them, and Mayo rode their luck, and fought a rearguard action, to deservedly hold out.
Who knows where this winding road will end?

Mayo
D Clarke; L Keegan, K Keane, G Cafferkey; S McHale, D Vaughan (0-1), C Boyle; J Gibbons, S O'Shea; K McLoughlin (0-4, 2fs), A O'Shea (0-1), C Carolan; C O'Connor (0-3, 1f, 2s/ls), A Freeman (0-1), M Conroy (0-1).
Subs used: E Varley for Conroy (inj, 42); R Feeney for Carolan (47); J Doherty for Freeman (58); C Barrett for McHale (63); E Regan for O'Connor (72).

Cork
K O'Halloran; J McLoughlin, J O'Sullivan, M Shields; P Kissane (0-1), N O'Leary, T Clancy; A Walsh (0-1), G Canty; A O'Sullivan, F Goold (0-3), M Collins (0-1, 1f); D Goulding, B O'Driscoll, P Kerrigan.
Subs used: P O'Neill for A O'Sullivan (52); J Loughrey for McLoughlin (53); L Shorten for Kerrigan (67); D Crowley for O'Driscoll (67).

Referee: M Deegan (Laois)