Cork picked up their third national league title in a row because they are Cork- confident and assured on the ball, strong in the tackle and they carry a huge physical presence around the middle of the field. There is even an arrogance to them, probably taken from playing Kerry, and, more importantly, beating them.
They tend to throttle the life out of the opposition and on more than one occasion Mayo surfaced for air only to be put under time and time again.
Under a slate-grey sky on a bitterly cold afternoon scores were always going to be hard come by and goals were akin to finding diamonds while digging for coal.
Mayo did not perform to their potential but I would venture to suggest neither did Cork. They always had enough in hand and while Mayo can’t be faulted for effort, in truth they never looked like winning this game despite carrying a four-point lead with them to the dressingroom at half-time.
That suspicion was emphatically confirmed when Cork fired over four unanswered points inside six minutes of the restart to draw upsides Mayo and when they hit the first of their two goals shortly afterterwards it was really game over and the task facing Mayo was one of containment only.
On an afternoon borrowed from winter, I’m not so sure the band of hardy supporters who brought the crowd for the two finals in Croke Park to a disappointing 22,000 would have been able to handle another bad beating.
That Mayo held Cork to five points was in itself an achievement and, in fairness, they were a shade unlucky to concede that first goal, which, was the defining moment of a game that burst to life for a period in the second half, while Mayo kicked some good scores in the first but never bossed this game.
Lee Keegan had blazed a trail through the middle of the Cork defence and seemed to get a nudge in the back as he was bearing down on goal and about to pull the trigger.
The game was level at 0-9 apiece at that stage, Cork having wiped out that four-point interval deficit, but the Rebels swept downfield with Donnacha O’Connor’s attempt for a point coming back off the upright and finished ot the net by Aidan Walsh.
That came in the 46th minute and a badly needed score from Kevin McLoughlin had the gap back to just two points again before Cork had their second goal, Ger Cafferkey slipping, and the clinical finish applied by Colm O’Neill.
To concede one goal was careless but letting in two in such a short space of time was unforgivable and ultimately it sealed Mayo’s fate with 15 minutes still remaining.
A Conor Mortimer free was Mayo’s only other reward for the rest of game although Mayo did pose a few threats, Keith Higgins making a terrific 80-yard burst only to run into heavy Cork traffic - and that was very much the story of a few Mayo attempts, Cork suffocating them with some tackles that were, let’s say borderline, but that is what comes from having the valuable experience of winning three league titles on the bounce.
Mayo ran the bench but the problem for the Connaught champions from an early stage was around the middle area of the field where Barry Moran and Jason Gibbons never fired individually or as a partnership and Cork won most of the all-important breaking ball which half-starved forwards are expected to live off.
When supply does not meet demand the result are inevitable and the Mayo attack had an impoverished day.
Cork’s strength on the ball coming out of defence was also a huge factor and you always knew Mayo would need to be leading by at least seven or eight points at the interval to have any chance.
Four was never going to be near enough and they can thank the accuracy of Cillian O’Connor for those frees, but Connor Mortimer and Michael Conroy both missed two very good early chances which could have put pressure on Cork in a game that struggled to come to life as the Munster side were quite happy to hold possession playing into the strong wind.
It was a fine point from Higgins on 22 minutes which left some daylight between the teams and O’Connor, with possibly Mayo’s best goal chance, stretched it to three points, Donal Vaughan making it four with a fine solo effort on 24 minutes.
Cork hit back with two of their own before Andy Moran, who played his usual hard grafting game, and an injury time-free from O’Connor left it 0-9 to 0-5 at the interval.
In the blink of an eye Cork had cleared the deficit just before the goal rush. A learning curve for Mayo on a day they will know they were never good enough to win but will surely feel they had a better game in them.
We can only hope they are holding back for the championship but to paraphrase a certain political party’s mantra – much has been done but a hell of a lot more still needs to be done.
Scorers for Cork: C. O'Neill and A. Walsh 1-0 each, P. O'Neill, D. O'Connor (2f), F. Goold, 0-2 each, G. Canty, A. O'Connor, P. Kelly and D. Goulding 0-1 each.
Scorers for Mayo: C. O'Connor 0-6 (5f), K. Higgins, D. Vaughan, A. Moran, K. McLoughlin and C. Mortimer (f) 0-1 each.
Cork: A. Quirke, R. Carey, M. Shields, E. Cadigan, N. O’Leary, G. Canty, P. Kissane, P O’Neill, A. O’Connor, F. Goold, P. Kelly, . Kerrigan, C O'Neill, A. Walsh, D. Connor.
Subs used: N. Murphy for A. O'Connor (64m), D. Goulding for C O'Neill (64m), B. O’Driscoll for P. O'Neill (68m)
Mayo: D. Clarke, K. Keane, G. Cafferkey, K. Higgins, L. Keegan, C. Boyle, D. Vaughan, B. Moran, J. Gibbons, K. McLoughlin, A. Moran, A. Dillon, C Mortimer, C. O’Connor, M. Conroy.
Subs : P. Harte for Gibbons (40m), E. Varley for Conroy (47m), D. Geraghty for B. Moran (56m), J. Doherty for O’Connor (61m), R. Feeney for Dillon (68m).
Referee: M. Deegan (Laois).
LEE Keegan appeared to be fouled as he was bearing down on goal. Cork cleared up the mess and in a blink of an eye the ball was in the back of the Mayo net. Cork had hit 1-4 without reply and Mayo were on the back foot thereafter.
THE cold, the bitter, bitter cold. Those who travelled from the west left the sunshine behind them unaware they were arriving into a Siberia-like conditions in Croke Park.
With just 22,000 attending the two games and the Mayo-Cork game not starting until 4.15 p.m. due to an injury which held up the first game, many are wondering should the national league finals not be brought to smaller grounds or even allowed the finalists to toss for home advantage. It has to be worth considering.