Mark Ronaldson reacts after a missed chance
Tuesday, 27 April 2010 08:12
Just when we thought they had turned the corner, Mayo ran smack bang into the Munster Express which came thundering from the Cork tunnel to leave, and not for the first, Mayo's hopes and ambitions strewn on the rich green carpet of Croke Park on another dismal Sunday afternoon for Mayo football.
Manager John O'Mahony had sent what most of us believed to be a well-equipped and confident army to headquarters in search of a badly needed national league title but Conor Counihan's men had already their homework done two weeks previously when Mayo beat Cork in what passed as a dress rehearsal for the real thing.
The real thing it wasn't, and from a Mayo perspective it raises serious doubts about their capacity to travel any distance down the September Road, which begins with a march on Sligo on June 6. Let's hope they don't walk into another ambush under Benbulben.
This, by any standards, was a harrowing defeat, a gut-wrenching performance which lacked heart and stands with the hammering we took from Kerry in the past, and it does bring into the question the whole argument about the Mayo psyche when it comes to the pressure of the big occasion.
No team that wins all but one of its six league games, including four of them away, could drop their standards so dramatically.
What is baffling is how a team who showed such good form throughout the league should crack when it comes to sitting the final test.
At no stage did they look like winning a game that Cork controlled and, if
anything, you felt the Munster men could have kicked on further as they ruthlessly exposed some of our fears, particularly at the back where a few Mayo players struggled against a skilful and mobile Cork attack which put 1-14 on the board from play.
That has to be an indictment of any defence and especially Mayo, who went into the final with the best defensive record in the league, but it was Cork's ability to work on Mayo's fault lines which ultimately opened up the scoring avenues in a game of poor quality which fell well short of the standard, and indeed the passion, produced by Armagh down in the division two final, which was the curtain-raiser to what was billed as the main event.
Even the division three final on Saturday overshadowed what was expected to be a lively and much closer battle between the top two teams in division one, but Mayo looked a team from the lower division for a lot of this game.
Given that Sligo were the team that caught the eye over the weekend when they bagged the division three title, a trip to Markievicz Park is a journey Mayo will face with some trepidation given the fears that have now arisen with a performance that raises that old hoary chestnut - what is it with Mayo teams when they take to the big stage in Croke Park?
Cork went into this game as odds-on favourites and deservedly so and they are favourites in most books for the All-Ireland championship given the pick they have from such a big crop.
But Mayo's lack of bite, the failure of the team to produce some semblance of a game plan and their shortcomings in so many of the key areas are major issues to be tackled before a ball is kicked in the Connaught championship.
A few players did emerge with credit and the efforts of Chris Barrett and Kevin McLoughlin are to be applauded, McLoughlin particularly trying his best to urge on his side with some terrific runs and attempting to provide leadership on a day when this quality was badly lacking. Ger Cafferkey, too, came into the game under huge pressure at full-back but came through reasonably well. Despite their usual wholehearted efforts, Trevor Howley and Liam O'Malley were exposed on a day when Donnacha O'Connor and Daniel Goulding almost did what they pleased, but it was Cork's dominance around the middle which provided a lot of good ball into that Cork attack.
Mayo, who also won a good deal of possession and, in fact, were just three points down having been outplayed in the opening 20 minutes, struggled when it came to taking their chances.
And yet, had they bagged one if not two excellent goal chance in that first half, it might have given them the self-belief when they turned over just 0-9 to 0-5 behind at the break.
For the opening two minutes of the second half we got a glimpse of the team we had come to see when Conor Mortimer kicked a magnificent point on the left peg and then followed with a free to narrow the gap to two, and suddenly we thought it was game on. In fact, it was game over as Cork moved up a notch.
By the time Mayo had their next score in the 54th minute Cork had pulled six clear again and Mayo were once more chasing a game that never looked within their grasp as several players failed to perform yet again on the biggest stage of them all.
Match report and further analysis inside the newspaper this week.