Horan calls Cork management’s pre-match tactics “a low act”
“It was attacking the integrity of our team - it was disgraceful and they should be ashamed of it”
Mayo’s Aidan O’Shea wins this aerial duel with Cork’s Aidan Walh in yesterday’s GAA Football All Ireland football quarter-final at Croke Park. Mayo will now face Kerry, who beat Galway in yesterday’s other quarter-final, in three weeks time. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho
In the long and great Mayo tradition of doing things the hard way, this won’t rank right at the top but it deserves mention in the conversation. James Horan’s side came to Croke Park with their dander up and their tails tweaked and for a spell at the beginning of the second half, they didn’t so much run over Cork as take their lunch money and duck their heads down the toilet. But in the end, they only had a one-point victory to bring west with them.
They prevailed in the end by 1-19 to 2-15 and hitched a ride to the All-Ireland semi-final for the fourth year in a row. They’ll meet Kerry – winners over Galway one a scoreline of 1-20 to 2-10 yesterday – in three weeks and will, all things being equal, go in as favourites.
Deservedly so, given their body of work under James Horan and given their response the couple of times they found the air getting claustrophobic here. But there’s just that niggling doubt around them now, the ever-so slightly taunting voice that warns they aren’t ruthless enough to see September out the way they want to.
Cork gave them plenty of it here in a game that was often tetchy and frequently compelling. Mayo would never have forgiven themselves if they’d let it slip, all the more so given the nerve that was obviously touched by the Cork management during the week when they suggested that Cillian O’Connor and Kevin McLoughlin were given to the occasional tactical foul. It was an issue that rankled with Horan and he didn’t spare the rod when talking about it afterwards.
“Our character was challenged in the lead up to this game by the Cork management, which I think is unprecedented in Gaelic football where a management team name players. For us it was taking the integrity of two of our players and of our team – I think that’s something that’s disgraceful and they should be ashamed of what they done.
‘It’s a new low’“Does that make victory sweeter for us? It probably does. I just think it’s a new low when you have opposition management naming specific players and taking their integrity and their good name. We coach and we try and play as well as we can within the rules of the game. They’ll face the Cork public after that. We’re happy where we are.”
Horan was particularly aggrieved by the fact that Cork selector Ronan McCarthy took what looked to be a general attempt to influence the referee and personalised it to two specific players in McLoughlin and O’Connor. “It’s not right,” he said. “I know it’s not right. For Ronan McCarthy to come out and say that, I think it’s completely wrong. It’s a dangerous area if management can say anything they want about anyone, not knowing anything about them or their values or how we try to play as a team.
“We are the ones who try and play attacking-based football, open and free-flowing. We are not the ones putting everyone behind the ball. I just found it particularly poor reflection on the Cork management. I thought it was a low act.”
After a nip and tuck first half, the sides were level on 0-8 apiece at half-time. But when Mayo came out and outscored Cork 0-8 to 0-1 in the quarter-hour after the restart, it was a fairly awesome reminder of their ability to dominate teams when they get on a roll. In that sort of mood, Mayo are a scary proposition for any team.
Niggling doubtBut scares can pass. The niggling doubt that Horan must have is that their bark is worse than their bite. Donal Vaughan fisted a point in that spell with only Cork goalkeeper Ken O’Halloran to beat. Andy Moran too kicked one over the bar that should have nestled in the bottom corner. Mayo took the safe option both times.
Kerry, meanwhile, put a callow Galway side to the sword with some virtuoso football. Like Mayo, they had to weather the odd period of worry but unlike Mayo, they killed the game off when it had to be done in the second half.
James O’Donoghue’s candidature for Footballer of the Year got another day’s screaming from the rooftops, his 1-5 all coming from play, each as gorgeous as the last. He even had the prettiest miss of the day, a second-half curler for goal that arced around Thomas Healy in the Galway goal in an almost perfectly cruel parabola.
All six of Kerry’s starting forwards scored from play and they brought in five points from play off the bench. A game that seemed pretty close with 15 minutes to go after Galway wonderkid Shane Walsh sauntered in for a stunning point had manners put on it thereafter by Kerry. Barry John Keane came in and scored three points, O’Donoghue shimmied, shook and dummy-soloed another couple. It was challenge match stuff well before the end.
Afterwards, Galway manager Alan Mulholland wouldn’t quite be drawn on what his future holds. He’s had three years in the job, two of which have ended in Croke Park. Above all, it’s accepted that Galway have a roadmap now. Whether or not he’ll be the man at the wheel will become clear over the coming month or so. “I’ll go away and have a think about it,” he said. “It will come down to whether I’m wanted and also whether I want it.”
For Kerry and Mayo, the summer isn’t dead yet. Mayo haven’t beaten the southern royalty since 1996, a wrong they’ll spend the next three weeks attempting to right.
Would you be anywhere else that day?