Mayo fail to finish off Cork and nearly pay the price

Connacht side have just one point to spare as they set up Kerry semi-final

Mayo 1-19 Cork 2-15

Mayo came through this with gasping room only to spare. A game that took a while to ignite developed into a barn-burner by the end, with Cork unlucky not to find a way to at least force a replay. Brian Cuthbert's side closed a seven-point second half gap to be level with seven minutes to go and, if the way they surrounded referee Cormac Reilly at the end is anything to go by, clearly felt they had more time to play with at the end.

It’s probably fair to say that Mayo were the better team but they very nearly got caught sitting on their laurels here. They dominated the period just after half-time, squeezing the life out of Cork to go 0-16 to 0-9 ahead on 51 minutes. But they didn’t put Cork away and very nearly paid for it.

For a couple of sides with no obvious bone to pick, there was no shortage of needle in the game. Kevin McLoughlin missed the best part of 10 minutes getting a cut attended to in the first half after Eoin Cadogan caught him with a flailing arm. Paul Kerrigan and Lee Keegan got in a spot of rasslin' and rollin', likewise Damien Cahalane and Keith Higgins.

It was obvious that the pre-match Cork talk of Mayo cynicism had hit a nerve of some sort – Cuthbert and Ronan McCarthy must have had a wry smile when the first free of the day was given against Cillian O’Connor.

Other than those occasional flashes of bad blood, there was very little between the sides in that opening half. Cork full forward Brian Hurley was the stand-out performer on show, a passage of three points from play on the spin early on highlighted just how unstoppable he can be when furnished with the right kind of ball.

His fourth point (third from play) put Cork 0-5 to 0-2 ahead on 16 minutes. He burned Chris Barrett at will and the usually secure Mayo corner back was shifted over onto Colm O'Neill soon after. His nightmare first half continued, however, as O'Neill took the baton to grab a couple of points of his own before the break.

Mayo are so experienced though. They didn't panic. Seamie O'Shea started bossing the play around the middle third and got forward for a couple of points of his own. Tom Cunniffe was sweeping expertly behind his midfield and Aidan O'Shea made a couple of incisive runs, one of which was hauled to an end by Tomás Clancy and saw the Cork centre back black carded.

The sides nipped and tucked their way to half-time. Alan Dillon had been quiet but now he popped up with two points on the spin to put Mayo 0-8 to 0-7 ahead. Colm O'Neill nailed his second to draw Cork level and send the sides in at half-time on 0-8 apiece.

Cue a Mayo show of strength in the 20 minutes after the break. Points from Doherty, Donal Vaughan, McLoughlin and a couple each from Dillon and Andy Moran pushed Mayo into the distance.

Their problem though was that when they could have twisted the knife, they took the humane route. Vaughan’s point was fisted over when it ought to have been planted into the bottom corner with only the goalkeeper to beat. Ditto Moran’s first. Against plenty of teams a seven-point lead in the second half would do the trick but Cork have scoring potential that other counties don’t.

Donncha O'Connor came on and chipped a couple of frees. Fintan Goold swung over a point. In the blink of an eye, there was only three in it with 10 minutes left. And when O'Connor found space on the end of a move that included Aidan Walsh and James Loughrey, his finish was emphatic and it drew the sides level.

It was breathless stuff now. Cillian O'Connor held his nerve to convert a difficult free from out on the right before mystifyingly being replaced by James Horan. Aidan O'Shea got in for a Mayo goal that looked to have killed the game off before Brian Hurley applied CPR with one of his own a minute later.

Vaughan and Keegan pushed Mayo three clear. O’Neill replied with two close-in frees. There wasn’t time for a third. Mayo progress, just a point to the good. It nearly wasn’t enough.

MAYO: 1 R Hennelly; 26 T Cunniffe, 3 G Cafferkey, 4 K Higgins; 5 L Keegan (0-1), 6 C Boyle, 2 C Barrett; 7 D Vaughan (0-2), 9 S O'Shea (0-2); 10 K McLoughlin (0-1), 11 A O'Shea (1-0), 12 J Doherty (0-2); 13 C O'Connor (0-6, four frees), 14 A Moran (0-2), 15 A Dillon (0-4).

Subs: 24 M Conroy for McLoughlin (temp 14-23 mins); 22 E Varley for Moran, (48 mins); 18 B Harrison for Barrett (57 mins); 23 Alan Freeman for O'Connor (65 mins); 21 J Gibbons for A O'Shea (70 mins); Conroy for Dillon (73 mins).

CORK: 1 K O'Halloran; 2 J Loughrey, 3 E Cadogan, 4 N Galvin; 5 M Shields; 6 T Clancy, 7 B O'Driscoll; 8 I Maguire, 9 A Walsh (0-1, free); 10 P Kerrigan, 11 M Collins, 12 C O'Driscoll; 13 C O'Neill (0-5, three frees), 14 B Hurley (1-4, one free), 20 F Goold (0-2).

Subs: 17 D Cahalane for Clancy (20 mins, black card); 21 P Kelly for C O'Driscoll (47 mins); 26 D O'Connor (1-3, two frees) for Collins (50 mins); 25 J O'Rourke for B O'Driscoll (57 mins); 22 D Goulding for Maguire (61 mins); 23 J Hayes for Walsh (70 mins).

Referee: Cormac Reilly (Meath)