Man and Ball: Relentless Rebels reap revenge on Mayo
16:29, 01 May 2012
Analysis of Cork's league final win over Mayo and how the western side faded as Conor Counihan's 15 automatons stayed the course for 70 minutes
Conor Counihan must have been stunned. Last season, his season ended a few hours before July handed over to August.
His side had been overpowered and wrestled off the ball and All Ireland trail by Mayo. Mayo, of all teams. Weren’t they supposed to be a soft touch? Up to that point, the Connacht side would not have been thought of as being in the same stakes physically. But that’s why James Horan’s battling side made an All Ireland semi-final - because they kept toe-to-toe with the then holders of Sam Maguire.
Mayo had kept with them for turnovers and kickouts, while the Rebels missed goal opportunities which were as costly as their absentees: Ciaran Sheehan, Colm O’Neill - who on Sunday showed us what Cork were missing then - and Daniel Goulding.
This league final must have placated Conor Counihan. His 15 automatons carried out their duty as described in the manual. That is not to denigrate the players by labelling them as just robots bashing through the opposition, but more a reference to how relentless their play was.
Let us indulge, for a moment, in some facts from the game.
First half 11 (0-2 off that) 12 (0-2)
Second half 12 (0-2) 7 (0-0)
First half 5/16 9/12
Second half 7/17 2/6
Opposition kick-outs won
First half 6 2
Second half 5 0
Cork (2-10) Mayo (0-11)
First half 0-5 0-9
Second half 2-5 0-2
What is quite evident is that Cork maintained their level over the 70 minutes, unlike in the All Ireland quarter-final loss last year. That day Counihan’s side lost the second half by 0-7 to 0-1 after posting 2-5 in the first half. This season’s league final, that’s what the Rebels shot as Mayo faded.
Yes, faded. Because Mayo had completed nine turnovers of Cork inside the first 25 minutes as opposed to four by the opposition. In that time though, the men from the west got just a single score directly off that good work as Cillian O’Connor bolted for the Cork goal but took his point when either he, or Barry Moran adjacent, were in a goalscoring position.
It again brought to mind last year’s clash when Kevin McLoughlin ran through and found the net from a similar angle. It sent out a signal of intent, one that was perhaps missing this time. And to be fair to Mayo, they had Cork on their heels. One of the two kickouts they won against the head was from the next play as Donal Vaughan charged on to point.
The signs were good - Mayo were tacking well and only conceded a first scoreable free on 27 minutes, highlighting their discipline. Cork, for their part, had been blocked down twice with scores on and hit four wides to one before getting a foothold. There has been plenty of talk about Cork going long and direct to Aidan Walsh but that was not in evidence on Sunday. A couple of direct balls did slide harmlessly wide but there was no continual aerial bombardment.
Cork worked their scores and worked the Mayo rearguard. After Vaughan put his side 0-7 to 0-3 up, the Rebels launched seven of the next nine attacks in the half, and in fact 14 of the next 17 until Mayo got their first score of the second half. So by the 50th minute, Mayo were now down 1-9 to 0-10 and got in just four more shots in the entire game.
Cork kept going and this year, unlike last, they took their goal chances. Mayo will wonder if Lee Keegan should have had a free when Pearse O’Neill nudged him, particularly as Walsh rattled the net at the other end right away. There was still 15 minutes to go but there was a sense of it being game over because the Connacht men were not creating. The Rebels didn’t look troubled at that stage.
Put it this way, 10 minutes into the second half Cork had four turnovers and 0-2 off that while Mayo hadn’t any of either. It took 15 minutes for Mayo to score in that second half. As such, one team overran the other.
That sort of dominance allows quality to shine. Paul Kerrigan’s pace stretched the opposition while playmaker Paddy Kelly was involved in creating nine scoring chances and added a point too.
Counihan will hammer his team about converting more chances (36% conversion rate) but the consistency of performance will no doubt please him. His side look ready to launch another tilt at Sam, as if everyone didn’t know that already.
Mayo are so used to being written off unfairly that they won’t be too worried about losing a league final to a team so proficient at doing that very thing. Early days to judge either, particularly as both were in similar positions last year and we saw how that ended.
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