Cork footballers looking for a qualified success

Cork footballers looking for a qualified success

Cork’s Ian Maguire goes past Kerry’s David Moran during the Munster SFC final at Fitzgerald Stadium, Killarney earlier this month. Picture: Eddie O’Hare

THREE years on from their last championship encounter, both Cork and Mayo still have the bulk of the same players ahead of their round 4A qualifier at the Gaelic Grounds on Saturday at 5pm.

Mayo squeezed through that Croke Park afternoon by the narrowest of margins, 1-19 to 2-15, in a game which finished in some rancour, on and off the pitch.

Cork are likely to have as many as 10 starters in their team, when it's made public tomorrow night.

Missing from the 2014 tie are Brian Hurley and Brian O'Driscoll through injury, Fintan Goold, who has retired and Noel Galvin and Clonakilty's Tom Clancy who are not involved.

Mayo are set to pick a side with even more survivors than their opponents with the only changes in goal, where Dave Clarke has taken over the number one jersey, and in attack.

There Diarmuid O'Connor and Conor Loftus supplement the likes of Cillian O'Connor and Andy Moran in a side chasing their seventh consecutive All-Ireland quarter-final appearance, a measure of the vast experience in the Mayo set-up.

A third-quarter scoring spree proved the main difference as Mayo outscored Cork by 0-8 to 0-1 and seemed to be on their way to a comfortable victory, leading by seven points, until Cork stormed back.

They hadn't managed a goal in three previous games that summer, but substitute Donncha O'Connor changed all that with a stunning effort following a flowing move involving John O'Rourke, Aidan Walsh and Jim Loughrey, Cork's best player on the day.

Remarkably, it restored parity at 1-13 to 0-16 and there was further drama, when Aidan O'Connor pounced for a Mayo goal only for Hurley to cancel it out with Cork's second, three minutes from the end of normal time.

The Connacht champions held their nerve to kick a couple of points to move two clear approaching the end, when referee Cormac Reilly became a central figure.

Cork players enquired what time was left as Colm O'Neill stood over a free to be told one minute.

On cue, O'Neill popped over the free in the knowledge there was enough time for one last attack to force an equaliser only for Reilly to bring proceedings to a conclusion on the kick-out.

Cork players protested and there was more action on the sideline as Mayo manager James Horan snubbed his counterpart, Brian Cuthbert, by refusing to shake hands following criticism of some of his players in the build up.

This is the first time the counties clash in the qualifiers. 

It's Cork's 17th game and Mayo's 14th with a last-eight place on offer against the Connacht champions Roscommon on Sunday week.

Cork have won 11 and lost five of their 16 games since the qualifiers were first introduced in 2001, when Galway defeated the rebels by 1-14 to 1-10.

Another Connacht county, Roscommon, inflicted a second defeat on Cork two years later and it was more of the same in 2004, when Fermanagh humbled Cork, winning by 0-18 to 0-11.

Since then, though, Cork's record has improved immeasurably with victories over opponents from all four provinces, including a couple over Limerick and another against Clare.

They accounted for Sligo, twice, and Galway, in addition to defeating Louth, Wexford and Longford as well as Cavan and Down.

Cork's other losses came at the hands of Kildare in 2014 and Donegal last season, going down by 0-21 to 1-15 to end manager Peadar Healy's first year at the helm.

O'Neill is Cork's leading marksman in the qualifiers with 2-24 to his name, but his difficult season saw him left out of the starting line-up in the Munster final against Kerry, when he was an unused substitute.

Mayo have also lost five times in the qualifiers though their five-year reign as kingpins of the west from 2011-2015 meant they avoided the back-door route in recent times.

Last season, Mayo found themselves back in it and registered wins over Fermanagh, Kildare and Westmeath en route to the final, where they lost to Dublin in a replay.

Back in 2002, Mayo encountered Munster opponents on two occasions, edging Limerick by a point, 0-13 to 1-9, and then having three points to spare over Tipperary, 0-20 to 1-14.

Mayo last lost a qualifier in 2010, when Longford pipped them by 1-12 to 0-14. 

They're in the qualifiers this season following a Connacht semi-final defeat by Galway, who won by 0-15 to 1-11.

Since then, Mayo struggled to get past lowly Derry, only pulling away in extra-time for a 2-21 to 1-13 win, which was less convincing than the 11-point margin suggests.

And Mayo's inconsistent form surfaced in the first-half against Clare, who raced into a 0-6 to 0-1 lead only for their opponents to dominate the second-half and advance by 2-14 to 0-13.

Historically, Cork had the upper hand over their rivals, winning the 1989 All-Ireland final and then defeating them twice in the semi-finals in 1993 and 1999, scoring five goals in the '93 encounter.

The other round 4A qualifier is also on Saturday in Sligo, where Galway and Donegal meet, two more fragile teams looking for a bounce back.

James Loughrey bursting past Kerry's Mark Griffin and Kevin McCarthy. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
James Loughrey bursting past Kerry's Mark Griffin and Kevin McCarthy. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

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