SFC: Quarter Finals, Croke Park, Sunday, 4.00
Reigning champions Cork’s 12 point defeat of Down last weekend sounded a warning bell to Mayo and all others that if The Rebels are to be stopped from reaching a fourth final in five years it will require an exceptional performance.
Kerry should await in the semis but if they keep their eye on the ball here and are not distracted by the talk of that tantalising face-off they should have more than enough to get past the Connacht champions.
The manner in which Conor Counihan’s men disposed of last year’s finalists without the master of that triumph Daniel Goudling leaves no doubts that Cork are a well fitted machine and it will be a major upset if the Mayo men, on a high from their provincial championship, can derail the champions.
Even with significant absences to their front line, Counihan can field a side full of players the envy of other counties.
Goulding will not play again this season unless his team make the final while Barry O’Driscoll, Colm O’Neill and Ciaran Sheehan are all ruled out until next year but still the Leesiders have yet to meet a defence a match for their attack.
Paddy Kelly in particular was outstanding against Down, his performance as playmaker was integral to the healthy nature of the victory.
Paul Kerrigans’ deadly speed and Donnacha O’Connor’s eye for goal – 1-7 against Down – will leave most defences feeling helpless, add in the six-foot-five All Star Nicky Murphy in place of Goulding at full-forward and Mayo have their work cut out for them.
The half-back line of Noel O’Leary, Paudie Kissane and John Miskella will also pose a danger, stepping up as they do to put pressure on the Mayo back line.
Aidan O’Shea and Seamus O’Shea will need to be at their best in the middle third to prevent Cork running the show and if Andy Moran and Enda Varley can take their points at the front Mayo may at least force Cork to work for the full seventy.
No matter the outcome on Sunday James Horan has satisfied in his first year at Mayo by keeping them in Division One and taking the Connacht title.
Cillian O’Connor’s step up from the Minors will give the Red and Green hope that their panel is capable of challenging in the later stages of the championship over the next few years.
On Sunday though it looks like Horan’s men will have to make do with being another stepping stone on Cork’s march towards the final.
Cork: A Quirke; E Cotter, M Shields, E Cadogan; N O’Leary, J Miskella, P Kissane; A O’Connor, A Walsh; F Goold, P Kelly, P O’Neill; D O’Connor, N Murphy, P Kerrigan.
Mayo: R Hennelly; K Higgins, G Cafferkey, T Cunniffe; R Feeney, D Vaughan, T Mortimer; A O’Shea, S O’Shea; K McLoughlin, A Dillon, A Moran; E Varley, A Freeman, C O’Connor.