This one deserves a book but ensconced as I am away from home and away from the action, it’s a short story you’ll have to do with instead. This contest, I know, merits a better account to be written about it but I’m not the person to do it.
Any telling of this story has to start with Cork. Fair play to them for the marvellous contribution they made to an enthralling contest, an effort that eventually came up agonisingly short at the end of extra-time. No way did they deserve to leave the Gaelic Grounds defeated and so I find myself in utterly unchartered waters: feeling sorry for the Rebels. And I do, I truly do.
I don’t even know where to start in thinking about us. This game should have been won way before it was but somehow we contrived to let a beaten Cork team back into it. And, boy, did they accept the invitation with alacrity. We should really have lost it in normal time but then we eventually fell over the winning line right at the end of extra-time.
Okay, here’s my short-hand take on what I saw on the laptop using a very clear GAA GO internet stream of the game, which brought the Sky coverage here to the sun. Sure, Finno was even on the commentary and, lookit, James Horan was doing some of the analysis.
I still had my normal problems with the colour clash between the two sides, though, my colour-blindness making it all but impossible to tell which players were ours and which were theirs. If the young lad hadn’t been riding shotgun beside me, I wouldn’t have been able to follow it properly at all.
So then what did I see?
A wobbly start by us – though not as shaky as early on against Clare – but then efficient and increasingly effective as the first half wore on. Then more dominant after the break, pushing us into game-all-but-won territory.
But instead of a serene canter to victory, we lose the plot entirely. Chris Barrett taken off, inadvertently opening the centre to all-comers. Lee Keegan black carded for a really stupid trip and, suddenly, this is a very different game.
And then – meltdown. Utter collapse in our backline as they came at us again and again, to increasing effect. But enough in our locker to steady ourselves and edge back into a clear lead.
Then another collapse, this one all but terminal. We seemingly win it via Paddy Durcan, then we throw that winning position away via a ludicrous foul and time-wasting that brings the ball up into scoreable territory.
Into extra-time and we look tired, so bloody tired. Kerrigan now the man, Cork now knowing they can win this. One down at the turnaround but in the second period we surge again, this time to effect.
Keith comes steaming from the back to notch the leveller. Then Diarmuid’s monstrous outside of the boot effort putting us back in front.
Conor Loftus goes for goal when really the point was the right option. From the resultant ’45, though, Cillian with his eleventh score of the evening – in what was by any measure a storming performance – pushes us two clear.
More missed chances, though, back to one. Keep ball now. Flirting with disaster but Cork unable to punish us. Finally it’s over. We’ve won.
We live to fight another day and with Galway unexpectedly beating Donegal out the gate, it’s the Rossies rather than Kerry up next for us at Croke Park tomorrow week. What an occasion that will be, in a year where – for the first time since 2002 – there’ll be three Connacht counties in the last eight.
The enormous effort required to get over the line today certainly won’t help our cause next weekend. And that collapse in the second half today turned all those hints about this team being past its best into something approaching certitude.
But we’re still – incredibly – alive and once more, despite all our trials and tribulations in the qualifiers, we’re back in the All-Ireland Series. Back and heading back to Croke Park.
Now I’m heading back for some more cerveza. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I sure need it after the stress of watching that. I can only imagine what it must have been like in the flesh. Salud!
Mayo: David Clarke; Brendan Harrison, Ger Cafferkey, Keith Higgins (0-1); Lee Keegan (0-1), Chris Barrett, Colm Boyle; Seamus O’Shea, Tom Parsons (0-1); Kevin McLoughlin, Aidan O’Shea (0-3), Diarmuid O’Connor (0-1); Jason Doherty (0-1), Cillian O’Connor (0-11, four frees and a ’45), Andy Moran (0-4). Subs: Paddy Durcan (0-2) for Barrett, Stephen Coen for Seamus O’Shea, Donal Vaughan for Boyle, David Drake for Keegan (black card), Conor Loftus (0-2) for Moran, Caolan Crowe for Cafferkey, Evan Regan for McLoughlin, Alan Dillon for Diarmuid O’Connor.
PS Thanks to The Brother for the above photo of the Gaelic Grounds this evening after the full-time whistle sounded.
Who was our MOTM against Cork?
- Cillian O'Connor (53%, 526 Votes)
- Aidan O'Shea (16%, 163 Votes)
- Jason Doherty (10%, 98 Votes)
- Chris Barrett (3%, 32 Votes)
- Brendan Harrison (3%, 30 Votes)
- Andy Moran (3%, 29 Votes)
- David Clarke (2%, 19 Votes)
- Diarmuid O'Connor (2%, 19 Votes)
- Keith Higgins (2%, 19 Votes)
- Tom Parsons (2%, 15 Votes)
- Paddy Durcan (1%, 11 Votes)
- Conor Loftus (1%, 8 Votes)
- Ger Cafferkey (1%, 8 Votes)
- Alan Dillon (1%, 7 Votes)
- Colm Boyle (1%, 5 Votes)
- Evan Regan (0%, 4 Votes)
- Kevin McLoughlin (0%, 2 Votes)
- Stephen Coen (0%, 2 Votes)
- Seamus O'Shea (0%, 1 Votes)
- Caolan Crowe (0%, 1 Votes)
- Donal Vaughan (0%, 1 Votes)
- David Drake (0%, 0 Votes)
- Lee Keegan (0%, 0 Votes)
Total Voters: 1,000