It’s August, and we are back to a familiar scene. Our opponents were confirmed on Saturday evening after Sligo were parked up by Cork.
When Cork emerged under the leadership of Brian Cuthbert, they looked to have prowess. They had a steady league performance, and with Kerry looking at sixes and sevens in the league, it looked from early on like they were the Munster team to watch. That theory was quickly demolished after the Kingdom destroyed them in the Munster Final by 12 points. And in a flash, Cork were banished to the dreaded qualifiers. They arrived in Tullamore on Saturday for a date with Sligo. Cuthbert made six changes from their Kerry hiding and unveiled a significantly revised game plan. A game plan that is now the new wave of vogue in Gaelic Football: overpopulate the opposition’s defence and stay there. This new wave was originally designed by Jim McGuinness and now, just like tight jerseys, it’s pretty much the new black!
At times on Saturday Cork played with only one player in the opposing half of the field. This style of defensive football was used on Sligo but in reality it was being introduced for their quarter final meeting with Mayo. But they have a lot of work to do before they perfect this style. On Saturday it worked for a while, then they drifted off course and looked unsure of themselves. Colm O Neill and Paul Kerrigan, seasoned players, were their star attractions; they looked sharp and up for the challenge. O’Neill finished with 10 points and will inevitably be a handful for the Mayo full-back line on Sunday, but with Keith Higgins now firmly back there, he’ll have the measure of the rebel. With the way the game is going now, it’ll be an interesting competition for Mayo, to see how they cope with the defensive approach. Fintan Goold started from the bench but replaced debutant, 20 year old, Ian Maguire and would look to have made enough of an impression to start on Sunday. Cork are jittery though, and tend to fall away when pressure is applied.
Mayo have never had a great record against Cork in championship. Horan’s men have looked slow to get going so far, maybe they are just warming up to this stage or maybe they are beginning to tire. Sunday will tell a tale. Big performances will be needed by every Mayo player. Will Mayo counteract the defensive trap? Will they need to?
James Horan’s men have shown heart and determination when needed in their Connacht Championship, let’s hope this continues through on Sunday.