Going into today’s match against Cork at the Gaelic Grounds we knew exactly what we needed to do. In an alarmingly lethargic first half, it looked like we couldn’t believe that Cork had deployed the Kevin Walsh-inspired blanket that everyone expected him to roll out. Then we beat the blanket to roar six ahead with fifteen minutes to go. Game over.
But it wasn’t. Our collapse after that was as complete as it was craven. We failed to score again, we coughed up an idiotic penalty right from the kick-out after Tommy Conroy’s goal and we looked on helpless as substitute Steven Sherlock cut loose, scoring 1-5 in a free-wheeling final quarter for Cork.
The swing to them at the end was nine points. Great from their perspective but, for us, the way we lost this one was just jaw-dropping.
Indeed, the manner of our defeat today was, in Mayo’s recent history, unprecedented. Our challenge disintegrated late on against the Rossies too but there were extenuating circumstances there, not least that we never found ourselves in a match-winning situation in that one. This afternoon we’d done all the hard work and then decided to press the self-destruct button.
We made two changes before throw-in. Diarmuid O’Connor came in for Fionn McDonagh while Donnacha McHugh started for Sam Callinan. Diarmuid was always going to start but why didn’t Sam? He never appeared off the bench so he may have been injured but there’s been no confirmation if he was or not.
Both teams wore the very similar strips as had occurred at the Louth game two weeks ago, which meant colour-blind people like me had a tough afternoon trying to figure out what was happening. Thanks once again, GAA, for nothing – actually for less than nothing as you’ve proved yet again that all your blather about inclusivity is at best very partial.
With warm, extremely humid conditions and most of the crowd – just shy of 10,000 – almost all under cover in the Mackey Stand, it all felt a bit suffocating. It was the same out on the pitch but what was noticeable in an alarmingly flat first half for us was that we had zero pace coming through to face their deep-lying blanket.
We went in at the break one behind. It was a half where we found it difficult to get a clear shot at the posts and we also found it hard to get frees from a ref who gave us precious little. Ryan O’Donoghue was targeted from the off but, more than once, very obvious fouls on him didn’t yield frees.
Cork would have been happy to go in one up at the break. They’d set out to frustrate us and this they’d succeeded in doing and their strength around the middle plus the pace their line-breakers had was already making this an uncomfortable afternoon for us.
Tommy Conroy replaced James Carr at the break. The Ardagh man had had a tough first half, which ended with a yellow card and it was a switch that made sense.
When Jordan Flynn knocked over a long distance point, after a long period of possession, it put us one up for the first time since Ryan’s opening score, from a free, in the fourth minute. Ten minutes later, after we’d traded scores, Tommy Conroy’s burning pace sent him clear and he shot over to put us two up.
When Ryan slotted over a free after he’d been fouled, we were three up for the first time. They got one back but then Jordan rammed over his fourth point from play.
Then came the goal. Ryan made it, Tommy smashed it emphatically to the net and it looked like we were out the gap.
And, when you think about it, we should have been. We’d beaten Walsh’s blanket, we were six clear. All we had to do was see the game out.
In that context, the penalty concession in the very next play was criminal. You can quibble about the award but they were allowed – not for the first time – to run right down the middle of our defence and the hand in the back was lazy. Sherlock sent Reape the wrong way from the spot.
What was worse was that there was no response from us. Indeed, for the final fifteen minutes plus five minutes of injury time we failed to score again, hitting a few bad wides in the process.
The Maguire punch on Jack Carney’s head came when we were still three up. The ref obviously saw it, as he booked the Cork player, but that was an utter cop-out. A smash with a closed fist down on the top of someone’s head is a red all day, every day.
It was a shocking refereeing decision on a day when there were many poor calls from the Down official. It’s worth noting, nonetheless, that none of these were responsible for the loss. This one was all on us.
When Cork drew level, an air of inevitability began to assert itself. We had no fight left in us, against a Cork team just playing off the cuff. Who was even marking Sherlock? Nobody it seems, as the Finbarr’s man simply ran riot. He was, for sure, the difference between the teams today.
So, instead of winning the group, we’ve ended third. Having gone down to Killarney and done the hard job of beating Kerry, our slip-up, plus their leathering of Louth, enabled them to end up topping the group.
Second or third is of less concern to us than it might be to others – in light of our godawful record at MacHale Park – but what we’ve lost from today’s defeat is the fortnight’s rest ahead of the quarter-finals plus a potentially easier tie then.
There’s no road for us now but a hard one and, in truth, that’s all we deserve after today’s shocking display. We’re in the pot for the preliminary quarter-final draw tomorrow morning and all we can do now is wait and see what fate has in store for us us then.
Mayo: Colm Reape (0-1, ’45); Jack Coyne, David McBrien, Padraig O’Hora; Donnacha McHugh, Conor Loftus, Paddy Durcan; Stephen Coen, Matthew Ruane; Diarmuid O’Connor, Jack Carney, Jordan Flynn (0-4); Aidan O’Shea, James Carr, Ryan O’Donoghue (0-5, four frees). Subs: Tommy Conroy (1-1) for Carr, Enda Hession for Coyne, Eoghan McLaughlin for Coen, Kevin McLoughlin for McHugh.
Our Final Whistle podcast is now up on Patreon. Rob and I are joined on it by Anne-Marie Flynn and by Mick Foley. we also have post-match reaction from Stephen Rochford. The pod is available here.
Who was our MOTM against Cork? Pick your top three performers
- Jordan Flynn (40%, 1,068 Votes)
- Ryan O'Donoghue (17%, 467 Votes)
- Tommy Conroy (10%, 269 Votes)
- Padraig O'Hora (9%, 254 Votes)
- Colm Reape (5%, 136 Votes)
- Aidan O'Shea (4%, 104 Votes)
- Conor Loftus (3%, 94 Votes)
- David McBrien (2%, 66 Votes)
- Diarmuid O'Connor (2%, 50 Votes)
- Kevin McLoughlin (1%, 32 Votes)
- Stephen Coen (1%, 30 Votes)
- Matthew Ruane (1%, 29 Votes)
- Jack Carney (1%, 21 Votes)
- Donnacha McHugh (1%, 20 Votes)
- Paddy Durcan (1%, 15 Votes)
- James Carr (0%, 13 Votes)
- Jack Coyne (0%, 13 Votes)
- Enda Hession (0%, 11 Votes)
- Eoghan McLaughlin (0%, 9 Votes)
Total Voters: 1,401