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GAA Roundup Cork draw bead on double

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Mark Jones

Cork 2-12, Mayo 0-12

The coveted double is within grasp. Already through to the hurling decider, it was the turn of the Cork footballers to book their place in the All-Ireland final when they snuffed out Mayo’s challenge at Croke Park last Sunday.

Cork came into the match with the best defense in the country, but, in fact, it was their underrated attack which made the difference. To start with, Nicholas Murphy was the dominant presence at midfield and Philip Clifford turned out to a revelation in the corner.

A faltering start was soon forgotten as the winners drew level by halftime and then settled a contest they had well under control with a goal by substitute Fionan Murray a minute from the end.

It might have been reasonably close on the scoreboard, but Mayo manager John Maughan refused to put any gloss on his team’s failed bid to reach a third All-Ireland final in four years.

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"We played well for 10 to 15 minutes at the start, but then the tide came in rapidly in a number of sectors," he said. "We were beaten in so many positions, it was a case of damage limitation. It’s hard to rationalize why we underperformed, but the reality is we were beaten by a much better side."

The bitter truth for Mayo is that while they have come close to glory in the latter half of the 1990s, they have nothing to show for their efforts. For Maughan and this crop of players, it’s now a case of what might have been. The inevitable question regarding the future was directed at the manager who has held the reins since 1995.

"I’ll be considering what I’m going to do in the days and weeks ahead," was all he would reveal.

For his opposite number, there was vindication in victory. Despite a National League success, despite a win in the Munster championship, Larry Tompkins has made no secret of his belief that Cork have not yet been afforded the credit they deserve.

"There was a lot of motivation coming into the game," said the man who was captain when Cork last won an All-Ireland, in 1990. "A lot of people had written us off and at the beginning the lads were a bit apprehensive, but we showed our character in the end."

The opening 20 minutes were certainly nightmarish for nervous Cork. Mayo seemed to be riding the wave that had crested perfectly since their Connacht triumph as James Horan, Kieran McDonald and Colm McManamon set them on course with three early points.

Horan was giving Sean Og O hAilpin such a torrid time that the fullback thought he was about to be substituted. Instead, Tompkins switched him on to Maurice Sheridan and Ronan McCarthy moved in to take over in the center of the defense.

But still Mayo probed and prospered. Three more scores to just one in reply by Don Davis and after 20 minutes it was 0-6 to 0-1 in the Westerners’ favor.

"The lads played some brilliant football," said Pat Fallon who was brought on at midfield at half-time. "But then for whatever reason, it went wrong. Everything turned against us."

New-found composure in the Cork rearguard was part of the reason, but, suddenly, the winners’ forwards also found their feet. Podsie O’Mahony clipped over a couple of points and then Clifford got his team’s first goal after shots by Joe Kavanagh and Mark O’Sullivan had been blocked.

If the goal wasn’t a thing of beauty, it still changed the flow of the game. In the space of five minutes, Mayo’s five-point advantage had evaporated and Murphy was beginning to take a stranglehold on midfield.

As Mayo’s momentum slowed alarmingly, Maughan sought to repair some of the damage by introducing Fallon, but the manager failed to solve a festering problem in the corner where Aidan Higgins would spend a fruitless second half against a rampant Clifford.

Equally, Sheridan’s place kicking went askew and he finished with five wides as Cork surged into a three-point lead with a quarter of an hour left. They were then able to concentrate on defense, and as Horan and McDonald were increasingly shackled, there were fewer and fewer doubts over the outcome.

Davis was still influential, as he linked play between defense and attack, while Clifford, not content to score 1-4 himself, laid on the killer goal for Murray. Once more Clifford got away from Higgins and bore down on goal. The assist was perfect and Murray’s low shot did the rest.

So, Mayo are left to reflect on what might have been. The most experienced team in the semifinals and yet another taste of failure. For Cork, who now await the winners of the Meath-Armagh clash, the chance to make history at the conclusion of the millennium.

Mayo, meanwhile, had some small consolation when their minor footballers reached the All-Ireland final by beating Cork 1-19 to 2-9, while Roscommon won the Hurling B championship with a 0-17 to 0-16 victory over Carlow after extra time.

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