This is the piece I wrote about Sunday’s match for this week’s Mayo News.
THIS was a rollercoaster ride if there ever was one. Periods of dominance, moments of despair. One minute, after Aidan O’Shea showed incredible lightness of foot to dance past the Cork rearguard before slotting the ball into an unguarded net, we were in Heaven but the next, when Brian Hurley unleashed a screamer into our net at the other end, we were in Hell. Happily, though, when this Croke Park funfair ride was over we were the ones left smiling as we headed for the exits.
It was a long day for the Mayo supporters at HQ.
The minors’ emphatic win over Armagh in the opening match got the day off to the best possible start. But the difficulties we experienced in the first half of the senior game, though, in getting past the suffocating blanket that Cork threw across their rearguard showed that we were going to have to win this one the hard way.
Then we came out after the break and pretty much blew them away.
A very strong third quarter saw us establish a seven-point lead which, in the process, rendered their blanket defence redundant. The game should, in truth, have gone down a pleasingly predictable path from this juncture – Cork, with their hard-working (and hard-hitting) defensive strategy in tatters, forced to chase the game, in the process leaving even more space for us to exploit and so kill them off.
It didn’t, of course, work out that way. They chased the game alright but the problem for us was that – with Donncha O’Connor now on for them and establishing himself as a forceful presence in an already dangerous attack – they proved pretty good at doing this.
Suddenly, we were visibly wilting as our nice big lead began to leach away. As it did, the big Mayo following in the Lower Cusack began to get a bit restive.
“Jesus, we’re going to let a goal in, I know we are!” screamed the girl sitting beside me, just before Donncha O’Connor obliged her with Cork’s first major of the day. From there to the finish, the poor girl looked like she needed medication, squirming in her seat and wincing at every hair-raising switch-back the game took from then on in.
Even though I could see myself that the contest appeared to be slipping away from us, I still felt – and gave voice to my optimism – that we still had it within us to win this one. I wasn’t all that astonished when we did but, like the nervous man alighting from a rollercoaster ride who realises that he’s still alive, I was all the same pleasantly surprised when we did manage to emerge as winners from this seats-of-the-pants encounter.
What I loved about the performance was that no matter how Cork rocked us we always had a rejoinder for them. Their opening of a three-point gap in the first half was answered by four on the spin from us. O’Connor’s goal for them was followed by a tricky free out on the right that Cillian expertly guided over for us. And Hurley’s majestic second goal for them was replied to with an outrageous up-and-under from Donal Vaughan that eventually fell to earth somewhere between the posts.
Was it the accumulated knowledge from all these big matches that we’ve played in over the last four years under James Horan’s leadership that helped to guide us home in this one? I don’t know but I’d like to think it was.
At the final whistle, my mind went back to another rollercoaster contest, one also decided by a single point, and I was happy to contrast my despair then with the contentment I felt from our having squeezed home in this one. Last September that narrow loss meant we were left to rue another All-Ireland having slipped away from us but this narrow win keeps us firmly in the hunt for glory once again.