Mayo managers Pat Holmes and Noel Connelly

You dont always get what you deserve as mayo know too well

Tentative for the opening 10 minutes, terrific for the remainder of the game, but ultimately trumped by a last-gasp Cork goal. That, in a nutshell, summarises for Mayo the round six Allianz National Football League encounter by the banks of the Lee last weekend, writes Martin Carney.

However, it doesn’t adequately tell the story of a fantastic performance by Mayo, who played with levels of passion and conviction that had been noticeably absent in the defeat to Dublin two weeks previously.

From the moment an impressive Tom Parsons landed his opening score in the ninth minute the battle began in earnest. All over the field Mayo players got to grips with their individual duties and collectively they played with a sense of purpose and understanding that drew the best out of one other.

Cork players were harried and forced into error by the ferocity of the Mayo approach. Why then did we lose?

That last minute Cork goal decided the issue but, on reflection, conceding a goal and two points early in the match made Mayo’s task a very difficult one. That slow start was our undoing.

In a fine team performance the defence coped with the movement and guile of the Cork attack after a jittery opening spell. Ger Cafferkey, on his return to the starting line-out, gave an assured display in the full-back line. Keith Higgins had a battle royale with Brian Hurley that was worth the admission money alone. The early slip that allowed Hurley set up the first goal didn’t affect Higgins’ performance and his leadership was inspirational.

Not for the first time, Mayo got a great return from the half-back line, both in an attacking sense and as defenders. Donal Vaughan’s point was the first scored by this line in the current campaign. The overall aggression and energy levels that comes from this sector is critical to the team. None of them were found wanting on Sunday.

Midfield got through a huge amount of work and both Barry Moran and Tom Parsons can look back with satisfaction on their contributions. Parsons, in particular, put down a huge marker for later in the year with a man-of-the match performance. His long-term absence from the team seemed to drive him to make up for lost time and his display has presented the management with a welcome conundrum.

Danny Kirby, in his first start at full-forward, will have gained huge benefit from the outing. Realising the pace that’s required, how little time you get on the ball and the all round application that is demanded from you can only be learned in games of this intensity. His point was a beauty, some of the early-game slips can be attributed to understandable match day nerves but the overriding impression he left was positive.

It was business as usual at the office for Aidan O’Shea. Multi-tasking is becoming his calling card but there is little doubt as to his importance to the team. When and wherever the fire burned fiercest he was stuck in the middle of it.

Whether it was at midfield, at full-forward or occasionally in the half-back line, he produced his best display of the current campaign. The leadership that the team needs oozed from his every pore during the second half. At times it took an army of Cork defenders to put a halt to his gallop and he didn’t deserve to be on the losing side.

Alan Dillon played with the customary craft and intelligence you expect. His assigned role as a roving centre-forward suited him and he still has so much to offer.

For the joint managers, though the result was cruel, the performance of all concerned will have hugely encouraged them. They can take solace, if that is possible in defeat, in that their preparation over the last fortnight brought about the improvement in performance that they sought.

The game plan hatched deserved a better outcome. The tactic of playing Jason Doherty in a withdrawn role worked a treat. His energy, tackle count and industry served the team well. The couple of scoring opportunities that he spurned will disappoint him but that is an area that will improve with more ball practice.

Likewise, Kevin McLoughlin left everything on the pitch. His second half point in the 29th minute that gave Mayo the lead was inspirational, and at the time I felt it was the defining score of the game. Alas, you don’t always get what you deserve in sport.

There are always areas where improvement is needed. At times a little more discipline in the tackle would have helped the cause and unnecessary frees were conceded in scoreable areas of the pitch. It must be said that Cork were equally as guilty as Mayo in missing very kickable frees but some of our misses in this department were costly.

How many of us at the commencement of the league foresaw a situation where a meeting with Donegal in the last round on Sunday would carry such significance? As it stands, the table is interesting. Win on Sunday and our division one status is confirmed for next year. Equally, a league semi-final berth may await provided that other results are favourable to us. Even were we to lose it would take an extraordinary result and scoreline in Omagh to relegate the team.

Donegal will be minus their talisman, Michael Murphy, for the game and this factor may well have an impact on the outcome. Though he has impressive lieutenants as support, there is no doubting the massive influence that he brings to bear on games. Donegal are a lesser force in his absence.

One way or the other, if Mayo can carry the spirit, bravery and enthusiasm evident in Páirc Uí Rinn through to Sunday’s game then there is every reason to hope for and expect a victory.