It proved to be a day of shocks in the LGFA Senior Championship, with Dublin – so dominant in recent year, until losing last year’s final to Meath – dumped out by Donegal, while our two-point success over Cork in one of the day’s other quarter-finals was also an upset.
Kerry, too, wouldn’t have been fancied to beat Armagh but this they did and we now face the Kingdom in the semi-final next weekend. Champions Meath just about survived against Galway this evening, a late, late point from Emma Duggan securing a one-point win for the Royals, who now play Donegal in the other semi-final.
Mike interviewed Cora Staunton for the podcast this week and, in the episode that went online for club members yesterday, Cora gave Michael Moyles’ team every chance of upsetting the odds against Cork today. Her reasoning was simple, which was that Cork weren’t in hectic form this year and that, if Mayo were up for it, victory was there to be claimed.
That’s pretty much what Mayo did today at Cusack Park. They came roaring out of the blocks, running hard, tackling fiercely and taking the game to their opponents. They got the game’s fist three points, Sinéad Walsh squeezing over the opener from out on the right, Shauna Howley bagging the second from a free while skipper Kathryn Sullivan got the third one.
Cork got off the mark then but another free from Shauna was followed by a nice score from play by Tamara O’Connor as our excellent start continued apace.
Things got better soon after. Cork pulled a point back but then Sinéad Walsh was played in and the MacHale Rovers youngster kept her cool admirably to slot the ball calmly past the ‘keeper and into the net.
That score finally jolted the Rebels into life. From then to half-time they enjoyed the better of the exchanges and proceeded to reel us right back in. We added two further points to our tally before half-time, efforts from play from Shauna Howley and Lisa Cafferkey, but they reeled off nine points in that period to edge one ahead at the break.
The question then was whether or not we’d be able to maintain our intensity in the hot conditions over the course of the second half. We’d pressured their kickouts hard in that opening half, a high-energy tactic that’s hard to maintain but which was paying dividends for us. As we’d found out, though, when Cork ran hard at us they were able to find gaps in our backline.
Cork opened the scoring in the second half but, although that Orla Finn point put them two up, we never let them pull away. Shauna responded with a free soon after and then the same player, from another free, hauled us back level.
Tamara O’Connor bagged her second of the day to reclaim the lead for us. It was a lead we’d never lose from then to the finish.
Tara Needham pushed our lead out to two. They got one back but then Shauna responded for us.
From the restart we got our second goal. The kickout didn’t reach its intended target, one of our players punched it clear and Lisa Cafferkey ran onto the loose ball. Soccer-style, she went round the Cork ‘keeper and finished it to the net.
Five in front now and a shock result was definitely on the cards. Cork weren’t, though, going out without a battle and they fought hard all the way to the finish.
They had pulled two points back when they broke in for a goal chance. Aisling Tarpey was equal to the shot, however, her superb save sending the ball spinning across the square where it was eventually scrambled clear.
Aisling was called into action soon after again and, following this save, Cork pointed from the rebound. Ciara Whyte then departed the fray on a yellow as we sought desperately to retain our narrow lead.
They cut the gap back to one but we made a series of stirring interventions after that, breaking up their attacks and turning the ball over. Eventually we broke out and a lovely ball over the top found the galloping Sarah Mulvihill who fired over what proved to be the game’s final score, as we closed out a 2-13 to 0-17 win.
It was a fantastic result, on a day when it felt like the race for the Brendan Martin Cup was blown right open, even if champions Meath will now be clear favourites to land back-to-back titles. We now face Kerry in the semi-final in a week from now, with every hope then that we’ll claim a place in this year’s All-Ireland decider.
Mayo: Aisling Tarpey; Eilis Ronayne, Roisín Flynn, Danielle Caldwell; Tamara O’Connor (0-2), Fiona McHale, Kathyrn Sullivan (0-1); Sinéad Cafferky, Aoife Geraghty; Shauna Howley (0-6, three frees), Sinéad Walsh (1-1), Sarah Mulvihill (0-1); Lisa Cafferky (1-1), Ciara Whyte, Tara Needham (0-1). Subs: Ciara Needham for Walsh, Erin Murray for Lisa Cafferky, Lucy Wallace for K Sullivan (57), Sherin El Massry for Ronayne.