ARMED AND READY Mayo’s Evan Regan takes on Cork’s Jamie O’Sullivan during Sunday’s National League match at Pairc Ui Rinn. Pic: Sportsfile
FOR only the third time in the last eight seasons, Mayo were unable to make a winning start to their National Football League campaign as they slumped to a disappointing defeat last Sunday in Cork city.
Unlike the Derry ambush in Ballina in 2009, or the late smash-and-grab raid by Kildare two years ago, Cork’s victory at Pairc Ui Rinn was a much more straightforward affair.
With eleven weeks training under their belts, and buoyed by an impressive McGrath Cup campaign, the Rebels made short work of an out-of-sorts and lacklustre Mayo outfit.
In truth, Stephen Rochford’s makeshift team (they lined out with only nine of the side that started against Dublin last summer and three players made their first league starts) were comprehensively outclassed for the bones of an hour.
In fact, apart from a solid first fifteen minutes, Mayo never got to the pace of a game that was dominated and dictated by the rampant homeside.
Winning all the individual battles, and enjoying surprising dominance in the middle third, Cork led at half-time by eight points.
And as the second half wore on Peadar Healy’s side pulled away at their leisure, leading at one stage by an incredible fourteen points.
Were it not for three stunning saves from Mayo goalkeeper, Rob Hennelly, including a penalty stop from Daniel Goulding during the third quarter, Mayo would (and should) have been beaten by much more in the end.
Cork did score their second penalty of the day — tucked away confidently by the excellent Brian Hurley on 56 minutes — and their attack was led impressively by their captain (and man of the match), Paul Kerrigan.
To their credit, even though the cause was a lost one long before the final whistle, Mayo kept plugging away and landed the last five scores of the day, as Tom Parsons (2) and Conor O’Shea picked off points from play, and Mikie Sweeney and Evan Regan converted frees.
But that late rally was academic, and came much too late to affect the outcome, as did a black card for Cork’s Brian O’Driscoll and a second yellow for his team-mate, Andrew O’Sullivan, which meant Cork finished the match with 13 men.
The locals had started the game like they meant business, moving the ball at pace, and frees from Daniel Goulding and Brian Hurley eased them ahead.
Mayo’s response was encouraging though, and they were level by the ninth minute after Jason Doherty pointed twice, including a free he earned himself.
But that was as good as it got from the visitors as Cork took complete control and rattled off ten points from there to the break, attacking Mayo relentlessly.
The streakish Daniel Goulding hit four brilliant scores with Brian Hurley, Paul Kerrigan, Thomas Clancy, Luke Connolly (free) and Brian O’Driscoll all on target.
Mayo were having serious problems getting their hands on the ball around the middle of the field, and all they could manage in reply during that onslaught were points from Conor O’Shea and Lee Keegan.
Trailing by 0-12 to 0-4 at the break, things didn’t improve for Mayo much after the restart as Cork tagged on five points without reply to disappear out of sight.
Mayo kept battling away, playing for pride in the last 25 minutes, but they never looked like scoring the goals they needed to make things interesting.
Things went from bad to worse for the Connacht champions when Lee Keegan sustained a blow to the head after a very heavy, accidental collision with Eoin Cadogan midway through the second half.
It later transpired that the Westport All Star was suffering from concussion symptoms after the clash, and it remains to be seen if he will be forced to miss next weekend’s outing against the All-Ireland champions, Dublin.
It wasn’t the way Stephen Rochford would have planned to mark the start of Mayo’s 18th successive season in the top tier, but there are plenty of twists and turns to come.
K O'Halloran; K Histon, E Cadogan, J O'Sullivan; C O'Driscoll, B O'Driscoll (0-2), T Clancy (0-1); I Maguire (0-1), A O'Sullivan; P Kerrigan (0-3), L Connolly (0-2, 2fs), M Collins (Castlehaven); D Goulding (0-5, 2fs), P Kelleher, B Hurley (1-4, 3fs).
Subs: B Daly for Cadogan (51, inj), D Óg Hodnett for Kerrigan (57), R Deane for Maguire (58), S Hickey for Connolly, D Mac Eoin for Kelleher (both 63), M Collins (O'Donovan Rossa) for Histon (66).
R Hennelly; L Keegan (0-1), G Cafferkey, B Harrison; S Nally, D Vaughan, C Boyle; T Parsons (0-2), J Gibbons; D O'Connor, K McLoughlin, C Crowe; E Regan (0-2, 2fs), C O'Shea (0-3), J Doherty (0-2, 1f).
Subs used: A O'Shea for McLoughlin (30, inj), M Sweeney (0-2, 1f) for Crowe (44), D Drake for Vaughan (both 44), M Hall for Nally, C Carolan for O'Connor (both 59), P O'Hora for Keegan (62).
Referee: M Deegan (Laois)