Debatable decisions cost ladies
QUARTER FINAL (Ladies Football TG4 Senior Championship)l
MOMENTS make all the difference. Moments of magic, moments of madness, moments of indecision.
Moments decided this game. Two in particular. Both yellow cards for Mayo players. Both dubious. Both costly.
Things had been going so well for Charlie Lambert’s side. Unlike recent years where the tendency to leave themselves with a mountain to climb in the second half had been their undoing, this time they were ahead at the halfway point. And largely in control.
The second half began brightly for Cork with a sweet strike between the posts by Valerie Mulcahy, from a free on the ground (a rare feat in ladies football, and beautifully done). Still no real cause for Mayo alarm. Until two minutes later when that first ‘moment’ arrived. A seemingly innocuous exchange between Mayo substitute, Martha Carter, and one of the Cork forwards resulted in a free for the All-Ireland champions - and a yellow card for Martha Carter, consigning her to ten minutes in the sin-bin. By the time she returned to the field and playing numbers were even again, Cork had scored 1-5 and had turned a two-point deficit into a massive six-point lead.
Having gamely battled back to within three points by the 17th minute of the second half, Mayo were in the hunt for a goal, and very nearly secured it two minutes later when Triona McNicholas saw her shot smothered by two Cork defenders just yards from Elaine Harte’s line. Emma Mullin followed up with a shot of her own, but it was well wide of the mark.
The initial shot had come from Cora Staunton, had rebounded off the upright and bounced into McNicholas’s lap for the goal chance. As ever, Staunton was Mayo’s main scoring threat. And so when she was sin-binned with 23 minutes played in the second half, having committed the offence of seeking to get by three defenders, being grounded by them, getting back up again and attempting to pass the ball off, and then reacting angrily when the free was given against her, Mayo’s chances of qualifying for the All-Ireland semi-final all but disappeared.
It was a true moment of madness - on the part of referee, Christy Haughney. What else Cora Staunton could have done in the situation she was in is difficult to fathom. She wasn’t looking for a soft free, she was trying to play the ball, in spite of what looked like illegal pressure being applied by a trio of red jerseys - and, bizarrely, she was punished.
Cork responded with two quick points, Mayo fought gallantly to overturn the now five-point deficit, but it was never going to happen.
And so, for the first time since 1988, Mayo will not play a part in this year’s All-Ireland ladies senior football semi-finals. A sad moment when that realisation dawned.
The game was billed as ‘grudge’ encounter in the days preceding it, with Mayo seeking to avenge last year’s one-point defeat by the Rebels in the All-Ireland semi-final. Grudges seemed far from Mayo minds in the opening minutes, however; action was their primary concern, and they were full of it.
Although Juliet Murphy opened the scoring with a pointed free for Cork after two minutes, Mayo soon assumed control, thanks to a beautifully-worked goal, created by Kelly Colleran and finished by Triona McNicholas. Two points from Staunton followed and Mayo found themselves in the unusual position of being four points clear with six minutes on the clock.
More encouragingly still, Mayo’s playing formation seemed to be working effectively. With Helena Lohan back in her familiar full-back role, Claire Egan manning the centre-half back berth and Nuala O’Shea back on marking duties in the corner, the defence was much more assured than it had been against Galway in the Connacht Final.
In midfield too, Mayo were imposing themselves more than they had done previously, with Ciara McDermott winning a lot of ball and Chris Heffernan dropping deep to help out wherever she could. And in attack, the movement was swift and the passing incisive, with Triona McNicholas looking particularly lively.
But a body blow was on its way, and it arrived in the 21st minute. With her team still trailing by four points, Caoimhe Creedon launched a high ball in the direction of the Mayo goalmouth. Deirdre Devine allowed the ball to hop before gathering it and by the time she went to gather, the alert Valerie Mulcahy was beside her challenging for possession. Mulcahy won the contest and the ball ended up in the back of the Mayo net.
For all their dominance, Mayo were now just a point to the good. By half-time it was back up to two points, following scores by McNicholas and the newly-introduced Martha Carter, sandwiched between a point from play for Cork by Mary O’Connor, the latter score again the product of a mistake in the Mayo defence.
The story of the second half is easily told and can be condensed to a few simple facts: Cork upped the ante considerably and played more cohesively, Cork scored 1-8 to Mayo’s five points, and Mayo had two players sin-binned at vital stages.
By the seventh minute of the half, Cork had rattled over four unanswered points, one free each from Mulcahy and Murphy and two from play by the excellent Nollaig Cleary, who was to be a thorn in the Mayo side throughout the second half.
Cora Staunton interrupted the Cork momentum with a superb individual point in the 39th minute, weaving in along the right wing past a handful of defenders, before curling over the bar. But the interruption was brief, and four minutes later Cork had added a further 1-2 to their tally, the goal coming from a Briege Corkery delivery into the small square which was gathered majestically by Deirdre O’Reilly and blasted to the back of the net.
Surrender was not a word that entered Mayo thoughts, however, and three quick points by Staunton (two frees) and Emma Mullin cut the gap to just a goal with 13 minutes still to play. There was a sense that Mayo were not going to let this one slip, and they continued to press forward in the five minutes that followed. Until, that is, Christy Haughney and his powerful yellow card intervened, robbing Mayo of their strongest weapon.
Whether or not Staunton’s presence would have been the difference between defeat and victory is unknowable, but the moment of her dismissal and that of Martha Carter’s certainly made a significant difference to the outcome.
E Harte; R Buckley, A Walsh, L Power; G O’Flynn, B Stack, S O’Reilly; J Murphy (0-3f), N Kelly; N Cleary (0-3), D O’Reilly (1-0), A Murphy; V Mulcahy (1-3, 1f), M O’Connor (0-3), C Creedon. Subs: B Corkery for L Power (20 mins), M Kelly for A Murphy (44 mins).
D Devine; S McGing, H Lohan, C McGing; C O’Hara, N O’Shea; K Colleran; C Egan, J Moran; E Mullin (0-2), C Heffernan, M Heffernan; C McDermott, C Staunton (0-7, 4f), T McNicholas (1-1). Subs: M Carter (0-1) for J Moran (29 mins), F McHale for K Colleran (31 mins), A Loftus for M Heffernan (38 mins), D O’Hora for F McHale (54 mins).
Referee: C Haughney (Carlow)
SPOT THE BALL Cork’s Valerie Mulcahy catches a fleeting glance of the ball as Mayo’s Nuala O’Shea goes on the attack during Saturday’s TG4 Ladies All-Ireland SFC quarter-final. Pics: Sportsfile