Mayo faithful still wonder “what if…”
Cork 0-17 Mayo 1-11 (1989 All-Ireland Final)
THE 1989 FINAL between Cork and Mayo has come to be regarded as one of the best All-Irelands ever.
The Rebels, under the stewardship of Billy Morgan, came to Croke Park on the back of successive defeats against Meath in 1987 and 1988, desperate to break their Headquarters hoodoo.
Mayo’s most recent All-Ireland appearance had been against the Royals as well, though 38 bleak years had come and gone since their victory in 1951.
Anthony Finnerty was the man unfortunate enough to be cast in the role of both hero and villain. Early in the second half, he stepped on to Noel Durkan’s pass and rifled the ball past a helpless John Kerins in the Cork goal.
Finnerty’s goal looked as though it might swing the tide in Mayo’s favour and, for a brief second on that September Sunday, those battle-hardened supporters clad in green and red dared to dream.
Durkan set the full-forward free again minutes later and, as a glimpse of Sam flashed before his eyes, he planted his shot into the side-netting.
Off the hook, Cork rallied and went on to win by three. But for Mayo, All-Ireland glory remains as distant as ever.
Cork’s Larry Tompkins takes the ball past TJ Kilgallon of Mayo (©INPHO/James Meehan).
What’s another year?
Cork 2-12 Mayo 0-12 (1999 All-Ireland semi-finals)
In 1999, Mayo were possibly the most experienced football team in the country, driven forwards by stalwarts like Liam McHale and Pat Holmes as they sought to make their third trip to the big dance in four years.
In comparison, Larry Tompkins’ side were mere children, and so it surprised few when they were torn apart in the opening exchanges of the semi-final.
After the opening quarter, Mayo had stormed into an 0-06 to 0-01 lead. But then it all unravelled, starting in midfield and spreading towards the team’s periphery.
As Nicholas Murphy grabbed his Cork teammates by the scruff of the neck and dragged them back into the match, Mayo looked distinctly uneasy. At the back, they gave away too much simple ball. Up front, they kicked the few opportunities that they were creating harmlessly wide.
By half time, the teams were level and the complexion of the game had changed completely. From that point on, it was Cork who dictated though — to Mayo’s credit – there were only two points between the sides until Fionan Murray struck a late 1-01 to send the Rebels through their first final in six years.
Don Davis is tackled by Mayo’s David Heaney and Alan Roche (INPHO/Billy Stickland).
Cork grind their way into the semis
Cork 0-16 Mayo 1-10 (2002 All-Ireland quarter-finals)
Much like the 1999 meeting between the teams, the 2002 quarter-final match-up at Headquarters – the last occasion that the counties met in the championship – was a relatively drab affair.
If Cork were uninspiring, it was because they hardly needed to be much better than that to progress. But for a last-minute penalty from Kieran McDonald which cut Mayo’s deficit to three, the Rebels’ margin of victory would have reflected their dominance.
It was a win which grew from a dominant display in defence. Mayo’s attacking threat was smothered and snuffed out again and again by the Cork back six. When they did manage to work the ball into space, the westerners didn’t help their cause by playing either one pass too few or too many, letting too many scoring chances fall by the wayside.
At the other end of the field, the Leesiders’ captain Colin Corkery was in fine form. The veteran forward, often criticised for letting the game pass him by, kicked six points as he continued to grow into his newfound role as Cork’s leader and motivator.
In the end, maybe it was all too easy for Cork who couldn’t raise their game when they took on Kerry in the semi-finals three weeks later, allowing their green and gold rivals to stroll to a 15-point win.
Brian Maloney is tackled by Eoin Sexton of Cork (INPHO/Morgan Treacy).