Mayo’s opening round match in this year’s LGFA National League ended in defeat at the Connacht GAA Centre of Excellence this afternoon. Trailing badly at half-time to Cork, Michael Moyles’ team battled back strong in the second half but a late goal for the Rebels saw them take the points on a scoreline of 2-11 to 0-12.
This was, in every sense, a game of two halves. The first period belonged completely to a youthful Cork team, who ran hard at our defence and who varied the point of attack, with their scores coming from a variety of shooters.
By contrast, our sole outlet up front in the opening half was Rachel Kearns, who, double-teamed by the Cork defence, had no room for manoeuvre. We weren’t able to get All-Star forward Shauna Howley onto the ball at all during this period.
Compounding our problems was the trouble we had on restarts. Laura Brennan frequently went very short but the ball was turned over a number of times, presenting Cork with clear scoring chances. But for the seven wides Cork shot before the break, they’d surely have been out of sight by then.
It took us 19 minutes to trouble the scoreboard at all, by which time Cork had raised five white flags. Tara Needham it was who opened our account, taking a pass from Rachel Kearns and turning to swing a shot high and over the bar from out the wing.
Rachel got our only other score of the first half, striking sweetly across the leather to send it spinning over. Cork took a seven-point advantage into the dressing room with them at half-time.
We made one change on the resumption. Lisa Cafferkey, who’d been named to start but was replaced by Maria Cannon before throw-in, was introduced in the full-forward line, with Rachel Kearns shifting out and Emily Reape leaving the fray.
Slowly but surely, the switch began to bear fruit as a very different narrative to this game started to emerge. Now we had some much-needed variety in attack, with Lisa getting on the ball at every opportunity, while Shauna Howley began to stamp her considerable influence on proceedings.
Shauna got the first point of the second half and then, after they’d added two more, we posted four points without reply to cut the gap to four. Shauna, a super one from distance, got the first of these, with Lisa bagging the second, taking a lovely feed from Fiona McHale. Two more points from Shauna, the first from a free, completed the quartet.
They then got a breakout score from Rachel Leahy to lift the siege but we were back on the attack straight away again. Éilís Ronayne was fouled and Maria Cannon knocked over the free.
Cork were visibly tiring now but they got the next two scores and it was, perhaps, of relevance that both came from players who’d been sprung from the bench after the break. Laura O’Mahony took the sensible option to handpass the ball over for the first, with Katy Quirke booting over the second off the left.
Six down again, we cut that gap in half with three rapid scores. Lucy Wallace, only just on the field, fed Lisa who clipped over the first of these, with Shauna adding two more from frees.
Cork’s restart then went out over the sideline, with the ball sent in quickly to Rachel who was promptly upended. Maria did the honours from the resultant placed ball and the gap was now down to two.
It looked then, with the large home support roaring them on, that we might just nick it. To their credit, though, Cork were able to draw the final sting from our challenge with two minutes of keep-ball, at the end of which they worked it in towards our goal where Katy Quirke thundered through to apply the finish and seal a five-point win for the visitors.
So it’s a defeat to start what promises to be a very competitive Division One campaign for us. Michael Moyles will, though, surely take heart from the battling performance his team put in after the break today. Those same qualities and more will be needed next weekend when Kerry, last year’s beaten All-Ireland finalists who knocked us out in the semis, roll into town.
Mayo: Laura Brennan; Éilis Ronayne, Róisín Flynn, Danielle Caldwell; Ciara Needham, Fiona McHale, Kathryn Sullivan; Clodagh McManamon, Hannah Reape; Emily Reape, Sinéad Cafferkey, Shauna Howley (0-6, three frees); Maria Cannon (0-2, frees), Tara Needham (0-1), Rachel Kearns (0-1). Subs: Lisa Cafferkey (0-2) for Emily Reape, Lucy Wallace for Ciara Needham, Sarah Tierney for Hannah Reape, Maria Reilly for Tara Needham.