Under the lights and in front of the TV cameras down at Pairc Ui Rinn last night, Mayo pulled off a superb comeback to beat Cork by a single point in their NFL Division 1A clash. Six points down at the break and with midfield totally beaten, our second defeat of the campaign looked a certainty. However, Mayo stormed back into the match in the second half and a point in injury time from Aidan Kilcoyne won it for us. Here's Setanta's take on the game. And, for good measure, RTE's and the Sunday Indo's.
Early on, it looked as if Cork were going to do to us what Kerry did in last year's All-Ireland. Using their early midfield dominance, they rained ball into their 6'7'' full-forward, Michael Cussen, and a glut of scores ensued. Cussen himself fisted a free from Masters into the net after ten minutes and later he broke another incoming ball into the path of corner-forward Kevin O'Sullivan who hit home Cork's second goal. We were 2-5 to 0-5 down at half-time and a chastening defeat appeared to be on the cards. However, as Eugene McGee noted in his half-time analysis on Setanta, Mayo's backline wasn't actually playing all that badly but Cussen was clearly proving a handful. With Kilcullen having been booked early in the game, he was obviously somewhat compromised in terms of grappling with the Cork full-forward. Losing a man in such a situation would almost certainly have resulted in a pasting for us.
What needed fixing in the second half was midfield, as that was where all our problems were starting from. We were never going to win ball in the air against Kavanagh and Murphy so the obvious Plan B was to start breaking it, crowd the sector out and try to snaffle up the loose ball. The tactic worked against Fermanagh last time out and soon it became apparent that it could work here as well. With more ball coming into them, Mayo were soon attacking with intent (shades now of the Dublin game last year rather than the final) and Conor Mortimor finished a fine move - involving David Heaney, Kevin O'Neill and the overlapping Peadar Gardiner - with the goal we so badly needed. This meant that, with only six minutes gone in the second half, we were back on level terms.
It still looked like we might fail narrowly to get anything out of the game, with Masters - who ended the night with six points - a constant threat. However, Cork never managed to get more than two points ahead of us after Conor's goal and Masters' final score twenty minutes from the end - which restored their two-point cushion - was also the last one of the night for the home side. It wasn't enough for a win, however, as points from Andy Moran, Marty Mc and Killer instead sealed victory for our lads.
This was a cracking result, one that will do wonders for the team's morale. Despite shipping those two early goals and battling to stay in it in the first half, they recovered superbly to dig out the win. While we were obviously caught on the hop in the first half by the threat poased by Cussen (though, in true Eurovision fashion, we should expect that every county will this year try to ape Kerry's successful tactic last year of deploying a big man in the square), Johnno's second half tactics were spot on. Once the supply to Cussen was choked off, we had a chance but we still needed scores ourselves to get back into it. Conor, once again, showed his worth to the team, with his 1-4 contribution earning him a second-successive MOTM accolade, but it was good too to see the scoring duties being shared around, with two points each from Killer and Marty Mc and a point each coming from David Heaney, Pat Harte, Andy Moran and KoN.
The win makes Division 1 football next year more likely, but we're not there yet. We're currently second in the table, on 8 points, and will remain there until next weekend's matches providing Donegal beat Kerry this afternoon. If Kerry win (and I think the cute hoors just might do so), we'll be level at the top on 8 points with both of them, though (unless Kerry paste them, which I don't think they will) with an inferior points difference, we'd drop to third in the table.
The Dubs are two points behind us but they annihilated hapless Fermanagh last night and so have a massively superior points difference to us (we're +9 but they're +22). If Tyrone beat Limerick today - which surely they will - they'll be level with the Dubs on points, but behind on points difference. Our two final matches are against the Dubs (next weekend) and Tyrone (the weekend after) so we can't afford to be complacent as both could yet overhaul us.
However, after last night's win, the aim now should be a top two finish in order to reach the play-offs. To keep on track for this, we need to beat the Dubs in Castlebar next weekend. They're showing good league form too and they also have a score to settle with us, but, having got into the habit of kicking their asses last year, we'll be looking to give them second helpings in McHale Park this day week.