John Maughan says Mayo should be wary of Cork threat

Former Mayo boss believes struggling Rebels are still capable of producing a big display

Mayo endured a similarly stuttering championship campaign last year – but they still reached the final and forced eventual champions Dublin to a replay.

Mayo endured a similarly stuttering championship campaign last year – but they still reached the final and forced eventual champions Dublin to a replay.

 

As football rivalries go the meeting of Mayo and Cork is hardly modern box office material. Saturday’s round four qualifier at the Gaelic Grounds has both teams coming in under the radar and playing some underwhelming football too, especially Cork.

All good reasons John Maughan reckons Mayo need to be “very, very cautious” about this game. The former Mayo manager – who in previous decades guided them to three All-Ireland finals – thinks Mayo will win, and with that potentially turn their season around just like last summer when they went on to lose the All-Ireland replay to Dublin.

Only Cork can’t be underestimated either.

“There’s not much rivalry here, and while Mayo have probably had the upper hand in recent league encounters, the last big championship meeting was probably the 1989 final, a long time ago,” says Maughan, recalling that All-Ireland final of 28 years ago, which Cork won.

“Cork have been struggling this year, we know, and we saw that in particular the first day, against Waterford. Those first 35 minutes was probably the direst performance I’ve ever seen in a red shirt. There were much better against Kerry, albeit they were well beaten in the end.

“Still it is one Mayo need to be very, very cautious with. Their own form hasn’t been that sparkling either. The first half against Clare they were under serious pressure, down 0-6 to 0-1 after 20, 25 minutes. And Clare just ran out of steam. We were very lucky against Derry as well, a game we could just have easily have lost.

“And of course an average performance against Galway back in the Connacht semi-final. So both sides, really, haven’t been in form. It’s just on the basis of what we’ve seen throughout the season I think Mayo do have more in the tank.

“But at the same time, given their nature, I’d always be a bit fearful with Cork. They’re looking over their shoulders and seeing what their hurlers have achieved. And you would imagine with their own pride they will come with a performance, and Mayo certainly won’t be without problems for the 70 minutes.

Indeed a Cork win would probably be regarded as a championship shock, and Maughan knows the potential for that, as his early managerial career saw him devise one of the great shocks of modern football – Clare’s 1992 Munster final defeat of Kerry.

Incremental improvement

Still he feels it is Mayo’s game to lose.

“The other thing is, with Mayo, even through the league, we’ve never managed to get fully fit team out on the pitch at the same time. Keith Higgins missed a game, Paddy Durcan missed a game through suspension, Ger Cafferkey, Aidan O’Shea, Brendan Harrison were injured through most of the league campaign, and it’s only now you begin to get the impression everyone is fit, and there should be incremental improvement, game on game. And I think you will see an improvement on the Clare performance, and that should be enough to beat Cork, by four or five points.

“And assuming Donegal beat Galway, which I suspect they might do, we have a chance to play Roscommon. Otherwise it might be Kerry. And if I was the Mayo manager I’d certainly prefer a crack at Roscommon in the All-Ireland quarter-final in Croke Park, a game where they could improve again.

“So it’s really a very similar situation to last year. Very patchy against Fermanagh, against Westmeath, Tipperary, and it was only when we hit Tyrone that the spark was back, with the likes of Lee Keegan, Keith Higgins. And I feel if Mayo can last than bit longer we will see improvement like that.

“I also think there is the realisation there aren’t many more years for some of this panel. Okay there are a lot of younger players, too, Conor Loftus, and others like that, but a lot of them have played a lot of football over the last few years, and you wonder can they sustain it much longer, at such a high level. Even in the league.”

What both teams probably do share in common is a noticeable lack of any hype surrounding their respective campaigns.

“No, the hype certainly isn’t here in Mayo like other years. And there are a few question marks after losing to Galway, a game we should at least have drawn. So the doubt is there.

“But again, they were in the very same situation last year, no one thought they’d get near the All-Ireland, and they ended up going to a replay against Dublin. But it is another year down the road, and I feel maybe the team has reached a plateau.”

“Looking at Cork from afar, you get the impression there is a mood for change down there. They’re not going to roll over and lie down, and I certainly wouldn’t rule out a sting in the tail. I think we’ll see a few more shocks and surprises before this championship is done.” 

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