You come away with the same number of League points if you get hammered or if you lose unjustly to a last-minute sucker punch score. Having seen Mayo lose in both of these ways in our last two games, however, I know which one I prefer.
Today’s loss to Cork at a windswept Páirc Uí Rinn was sickening, cruel and utterly undeserved but what we got from the lads today was a hard-working and fully committed performance. We deserved at least a draw and we should, in truth, have snatched a win against a very wasteful home side but Hurley’s last-minute goal instead sent us home empty-handed.
Once we’d parked up a short distance away from the pitch, it was soon clear that another big Mayo following would be turning up for this afternoon’s contest. We made it down from the capital in time to get the spuds and then headed for the ground, which was already starting fill up, though the Cork hurling fraternity continued to stream in right through our curtain-raiser football clash at Páirc Uí Rinn.
The car had got a right old buffeting on the drive down from Dublin and the wind was blowing strongly at Páirc Uí Rinn too, with a strong breeze blowing diagonally across the field. We had whatever benefit was going from the elements in the first half.
As I struggled – yet again in a Mayo v Cork contest – through colour-blind eyes to tell the two sets of players apart (why produce a distinctive new away jersey and then not use the bloody thing when it’s needed?), what I could see was that we were putting plenty of players behind the ball. It was obvious from the outset of today’s contest that we weren’t going to let the Cork lads dance through our backline in the way that we’d allowed the Dubs to do two weekends ago.
Despite this, we made the worst possible start to the match. Two frees from Hurley put Cork ahead early on and then an uncharateristic mistake by Keith Higgins gifted possession to Hurley whose cross into the square was booted to the net by Collins.
Another tanking looked a distinct possibility, or perhaps a probability, at that early stage but, full credit to the lads, they responded very well to this adversity. So well did they do so that the home side didn’t score again until right on the stroke of half-time, a scoreless spell that lasted close to half an hour, during which time we turned a five-point deficit into a two-point advantage.
Leading the charge in this revival was the impressive Tom Parsons – he had a storming game on his first appearance of the year at midfield – who pointed for us straight after that Cork goal. The score came via a nice offload from Alan Dillon, who also played a prominent part in our first-half resurgence this afternoon.
Slowly but surely, we reeled them in. A wind-assisted fifty from Jason Doherty was followed by a point from play by Danny Kirby. Tom Parsons then added another from play.
Our tight man-marking on their kickouts paid dividends when O’Halloran was pulled for taking too long with a restart. Aidan O’Shea was fouled from the resultant hop-ball and Kevin McLoughlin stroked the free over to level the match up.
We spurned three chances to take the lead after this, with bad wides from Aido, Doc and Lee Keegan, but then Mark Ronaldson claimed possession, spun away smartly from his marker and stroked it over the bar. Donal Vaughan, raiding forward, smashed over a glorious long-ranger to increase our lead to two before Cork finally pulled one back just before the short whistle sounded.
We continued on the offensive after the break. Aidan O’Shea, despite being under intense pressure, managed to get his shot away to register our first score of the half. We should have added to this from Aido’s next burst, when he was fouled a good half-dozen times before he was finally felled fourteen yards out. Jason Doc made an awful hames of the free, though, hoisting it up into the wind and wide.
O’Neill banged over a nice long ranger for them but we then missed two chances to add to our lead. Both Jason Doc and Aidan were fouled as they burst forward but they got neither an advantage nor a free from ref Eddie Kinsella and both attacks came to nothing.
Our ire with the ref turned to disbelief soon after. Michael Conroy, on the field less than a minute as a sub for Alan Dillon, appeared to be pulled down as he tried to break clear. Incredibly, though, Kinsella showed Mickey a black card for the incident. I haven’t a clue what the rationale was for this and I can’t for the life of me see how it could have constituted a black card offence. In the ref’s view, it did, though, and Conor O’Shea came on for the unfortunate Davitts man.
Two points, one from a free, edged the home team in front but then Tom Parsons knifed through the cover and popped over his third point of the day to level the match up once more. Jason Doc, fouled as he broke through, pointed the close-in free and we were in front once again.
Mikey Sweeney had by now come in for Mark Ronaldson and Stephen Coen had replaced the injured Kevin Keane. The introduction of both helped us up the ante as the match entered its final increasingly frantic ten minutes.
Goold levelled the match once more with a fine point from distance but the wasteful home side – whose wide count was comfortably in double-digits by now – failed to build on it. Eventually we broke out, with Kevin McLoughlin, from a great catch and feed by Tom Parsons, cutting through for the lead point for us. Soon after, it began to look like our day when Mikey Sweeney fed Stephen Coen who banged it over to push us two clear.
There was a palpable air of desperation now to Cork’s attempts at rescuing the game. Danny Kirby should perhaps have got a black card for a drag down but Daniel Goulding’s free went badly wide as it became clear that only a goal would save the Rebels now.
And feck them, they got it. An attack up the inline, the ball fed across the square by Dorman where Hurley met it with a punch to the net to snatch the spoils in the cruellest manner imaginable from our perspective. At the death, Andy Moran – only just on the field – might have pulled the fat from the fire but his effort at a point didn’t have the distance and the game was lost.
But even though it was a loss, and a galling one at that, it was still a match from which we can take plenty of encouragement. The weak-willed surrender against Dublin was replaced by a fully committed and hugely hard working display, one that should help to dispel those doubts (which I admit I have shared) about where we’re heading this year.
Strong performers for us today included Keith Higgins (despite his first half slip-up), Donal Vaughan, Colm Boyle, Kevin McLoughlin, Aidan O’Shea, Jason Doherty, Danny Kirby and Alan Dillon. Man of the Match, for me at least, was the excellent Tom Parsons.
While today’s narrow reversal means we’re not yet 100% sure of our Division One status, results elsewhere today means that it’ll now take a very unlikely combination of results and scores next Sunday to send us down. If we beat a Donegal side shorn of the services of the suspended Michael Murphy, we’ll almost certainly make the play-offs. So, on a day when we went down to the cruellest of defeats, we end the day in a decent enough position in Division One and also surely with a renewed sense of belief about our ability to do the business when the chips are down.
Mayo: David Clarke; Ger Cafferkey, Kevin Keane, Keith Higgins; Lee Keegan, Colm Boyle, Donal Vaughan (0-1); Barry Moran, Tom Parsons (0-3); Kevin McLoughlin (0-2, one free), Aidan O’Shea (0-1), Jason Doherty (0-2, ’45 and free); Mark Ronaldson (0-1), Danny Kirby (0-1), Alan Dillon. Subs: Michael Conroy for Dillon, Conor O’Shea for Conroy (black card), Mikey Sweeney for Ronaldson, Stephen Coen (0-1) for Keane, Alan Freeman for Barry Moran, Andy Moran for Kirby.