Mayo press high, create chances
The wind advantage in the first half saw Mayo adjust their approach from previous games. While still playing behind the ball, James Horan’s side pressed much higher in the opening 35 minutes. Defensively this hurt them as it prevented the ball-carrier isolation tactics that had defined their resurgence in the latter stages of the league campaign. The move however made sense in the context of the first half as, with the conditions in their favour, Mayo were able to turn the higher pressing into scoring chances.
Keith Higgins profited on a breakaway on 23 minutes as he split the uprights. Two minutes later Donal Vaughan ran forward to claim possession and send the ball over as Mayo stretched their lead to four points. When Mayo looked to develop play with their higher numbers it resulted in chances, with several frees earned in scoring position. Three of Cillian O’Connor’s 0-5 tally in the first half came from frees won on the 21 metre line and his lone score from play came from a move where he broke through the defence to score from short range. Horan’s charges were however prone to trying long balls in situations where they really had no right to and this saw possession turned into Cork kick outs all too easily.
Cork’s shot selection woes
The Rebels stated their intent within two minutes when Graham Canty sent in a ball over the top to Colm O’Neill, only for the forward’s fisted effort to hit the upright and go wide. For the most part however Cork moved away from their route one approach in the first half. Playing into a difficult wind, the Rebels looked to work the ball into scoring range. O’Neill played creator on two of their first half points but he was one of many Cork players guilty of ill-timed efforts to score.
The Rebels showed flashes of quality inter-play between the forwards in the first period. Cork’s issues adapting their game to inconvenient circumstances has been a recurring theme this season and the first half highlighted why. The signs of Cork’s game developing were visible were improved in the better passing between attackers but the final shot selection still left a lot to be desired. Efforts were rushed and from poor positions, with too many moves ending in hoof-and-hope attempts on the uprights. Even when Cork adapted their game in the second half, there were far too many long-range shots going astray.
With the wind at their backs Cork started playing a more direct game on the resumption. Paddy Kenny’s point on 37 minutes came from a long ball. A minute later the Rebels looked to charge up the gut, passing through the middle, play broke down and Pearse O’Neill fired over from in front of goal. The inefficiencies in Cork’s shot selection meant Conor Counihan’s team made hard work of turning their dominance on the field into an advantage on the scoreboard.
That changed on 47 minutes. Paudie Kissane took possession inside the Cork half and advanced to the halfway mark. He sent a through ball down the right flank that Donncha O’Connor ran onto around 40 metres out. O’Connor accelerated up-field and cut inside to draw in defenders. By this stage Colm O’Neill was dropping off and O’Connor passed to him on the 13 metre line. O’Neill slammed the ball home for the opening goal of the game.
The Rebels’ second goal was more fortuitous but no less direct. Fintan Goold romped up the left flank through the Mayo defence and tried a long range effort for a point. His effort hit the upright and Aidan Walsh was on hand to take possession and fire it into the net. It was a rare moment up front for Walsh, who had a relatively quiet afternoon. Walsh played most of the game further out the field rather than playing the dual-role style witnessed through the league campaign.
Isn’t that our thing?
With the wind having aided Mayo in the first half, it negated their advantage in shooting after the break. With the gale preventing effective long range efforts, Horan’s charges needed to work the ball closer to goal. They ran into a Cork defence that had deployed the kind of isolation tactics Mayo used to frustrate Dublin and Kerry. With ball-carriers running into brick walls, chances were hard to come by as Mayo couldn’t move the ball through the forwards at speed. Cork’s massive size advantage is no secret but their defence had never been known as the swarming type. The conditions aided this switch as there was no fear of fast breaks creating numerical miss-matches nearer goal.
The dis-jointed pace of scoring will be of concern to both camps coming out of this game. Mayo never managed to impose their game and they drifted out of the contest relatively early in the second half, despite the score always being manageable. The decision to press high in the first half may have been the right one but Horan’s side didn’t adapt to the gale in the second half. As a result we never got to see if Cork could adapt to Mayo’s isolaton game.
The Rebels, despite the win, will know there’s a lot of work still to do. The defence was impressive throughout the game but they need to be more consistent in attack. Considering they wholly dominated Mayo after the break, engineering an 8 point turnaround on the scoreboard, Cork still only recorded two scores in the final 20 minutes. Mayo however could only add a single point in the same span and that ultimately proved the difference. The Rebels could afford to be less than stellar up front when their backs were in championship form.
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Programming note: The Division 2 Final report will go live on Monday. The Division 3 Final piece will be up Wednesday morning. You can read the Division 4 Final analysis here.