Extraordinary Cork comeback leaves Mayo with away game in next round

Rebels finish second place in the table, meaning a home preliminary quarter-final

All-Ireland SFC, Group 1, Round 3: Cork 1-14 Mayo 1-11

Nobody was ready for this. In a football championship that had renounced excitement, Cork and Mayo went berserk. In a convulsive final quarter Mayo had a six-point lead stripped from their grasp, and in a Humpty Dumpty fall, they went from first to third in their round-robin group.

The companion outcome was that Cork jumped to second, seizing the prize of a home game in the first knockout round of the championship next weekend. Go figure.

As the game drew to a close permutations and consequences made an awful racket. Once Cork hit the front word was sent on to the pitch that they needed to win by at least three points for a win to make any material difference to their status Mayo were across the numbers too, and when the League champions were awarded a free in the fifth minute of stoppage time they knew that a two-point defeat would leave them in second place on scoring difference.

Aidan O’Shea, whose only shot in the match had been a first-half attempt for a goal, stood up to the free, but his left-footed kick dropped into the Cork square where it was claimed by Micheal Aodh Martin.


By any measure it was a massive win for Cork. Cheerleaders for their improvement this year had been heckled by two or three weak-willed defeats along the way, but this performance was full of resilience and bloody-mindedness. In modern Gaelic football substantial leads are easily defended, which made it even more astonishing that Cork could engineer a nine-point swing in the final quarter, without conceding a score.

“All it does is takes us to another round,” said John Cleary, tying vainly to keep the fizz in the bottle. “I think the big belief comes from beating a Division One team. We needed to do that and there were a lot of doubters there – and maybe we hadn’t done anything to deserve the plaudits.

“I knew that we wouldn’t die [after Mayo’s goal put them six in front] but I felt that maybe Mayo might have a bit too much. I did feel that Mayo were tiring a little bit and we got great impetus from the bench [Cork’s subs scored 1-7]. Sometimes, when you’re that much up, you retreat and I could see their line trying to get them up the field and there were holes there.”

The critical impetus for Cork’s comeback came from their immediate response to Tommy Conroy’s 57th minute goal. Directly from the kickout Colm O’Callaghan surged through the Mayo defence and was brought down inside the Mayo square. Steven Sherlock, who had come on early in the second half, slotted the penalty in the corner and on a short fuse Cork exploded. Sherlock kicked the next four points and in a flash Cork were in front, with a degree of control over their destiny.

By then, Mayo had lost their shape and their focus and their balance. Every game they play seems to be a mini-referendum on their All-Ireland prospects and after this there will be another violent swing towards “No”.

Mayo had recovered from a dull first half with a terrifically dominant third quarter, and having trailed by a point at the break, they outscored Cork by 1-6 to 0-2 in the opening 22 minutes of the second half. From that position, for a team with pretensions on the title, it was a bewildering collapse.

The influence of Kevin Walsh is obvious in Cork’s defensive shape and their more aggressive tackling. At one stage in the first half the only Cork player outside their 45 was Rory Maguire, evidently on an early warning surveillance mission. He was soon sucked backed into Cork’s default shape, with a thick fog of red shirts massed across an imaginary line outside the D. The bedrock of Cork’s performance was hard-won turnovers; everything good flowed from that.

Cork led by 0-6 to 0-5 at the break but they scored just once in the opening 15 minutes of the second half. Mayo were better in the middle third, more threatening in attack and had shifted into a higher gear. The outstanding Jordan Flynn rattled over three beautiful points, taking his total to four, and when Conroy blasted his shot to the net only one outcome looked possible.

The closing minutes were frantic. John O’Rourke put Cork two ahead in the final minute of normal time before Chris Og Jones fisted the point that made all the difference.

Mayo: C Reape (0-1, 45), J Coyne, D McBrien, P O’Hora, D McHugh, C Loftus, P Durcan, S Coen, M Ruane, D O’Connor, J Carney, J Flynn (0-4), A O’Shea, J Carr, R O’Donoghue (0-5, 0-4 frees).

Subs: T Conroy (1-1) for Carr h-t; E Hession for Coyne 52 mins; E McLaughlin for Coen 52 mins; K McLoughlin for McHugh 67 mins

Cork: M Martin, M Shanley, D O’Mahony, T Walsh 0-1, L Fahy, R Maguire 0-2, M Taylor, C O’Callaghan 0-1, I Maguire, B O’Driscoll, R Deane, K O’Hanlon, S Powter, B Hurley 0-2, 0-1 free, E McSweeney 0-1

Subs: S Sherlock (1-5, 1-0 pen, 0-1 free, 0-1 45) for Deane 40 mins (temporary substitution); J O’Rourke (0-1) for McSweeney 51 mins; C Corbett for Hurley 55 mins; K O’Donovan for Fahy 59 mins; C Jones (0-1) for Powter 64 mins; M Cronin for O’Hanlon 67 mins

Referee: Paul Faloon (Down)

Stats Box


First half: 0-6

Second half: 1-8

Wides: 6

From play: 1-11

Frees conceded: 14

Yellow cards: 3

Black cards: 0

Red cards: 0


First half: 0-5

Second half: 1-6

Wides: 6

From play: 1-7

Frees conceded: 14

Yellow cards: 1

Black cards: 0

Red cards: 0

Attendance: 9210

Denis Walsh

Denis Walsh

Denis Walsh is a sports writer with The Irish Times