Cahair O'Kane: Mayo's latest act of self-sabotage might have cost them an All-Ireland

Cahair O'Kane

Cahair O'Kane

Cahair is a sports reporter and columnist with the Irish News specialising in Gaelic Games.

One of Mayo or Galway will be gone after Sunday. You can forgive Galway finding themselves here out of a tough group, but Mayo's collapse against Cork was extraordinary. Picture: Philip Walsh
One of Mayo or Galway will be gone after Sunday. You can forgive Galway finding themselves here out of a tough group, but Mayo's collapse against Cork was extraordinary. Picture: Philip Walsh One of Mayo or Galway will be gone after Sunday. You can forgive Galway finding themselves here out of a tough group, but Mayo's collapse against Cork was extraordinary. Picture: Philip Walsh

JUST when you think you’ve seen every conceivable way for Mayo to self-sabotage, they go and do this.

After mauling Kerry in Killarney and doing what they had to do against Louth, they’re six points up against Cork with 14 minutes to play.

Mayo are on the lazy river, shades on, waiting to step gently off and into the last eight.

Then the Rebels, still capable of realising their potential the odd time, come along and capsize their day. Maybe their entire year.

Even when it all collapses, they get a 74th minute free.

Somewhere in the dossier they’d have produced on the Cork game, there must have been a line that told them what to do in this exact scenario.

It was unpredictable with 15 minutes to go but it wasn’t unpredictable before the game. Kerry to win by any margin, Cork to win by exactly three points. Hardly beyond the realms.

Some questioned why Aidan O’Shea was kicking the free at all. Their late subs Kevin McLoughlin and Eoghan McLaughlin were their only other left-footed players on the field. It was a left-footed free, but not so far wide that you’d have felt Ryan O’Donoghue or Colm Reape were risky takers.

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Padraig O’Hora, with the universal signal for lob, appears to check that O’Shea is intent on dropping the ball into the square.

Thirty seconds left, only a goal will save them from defeat, but a point would see them finish second in the group ahead of Cork. The greater good and all that.

O’Shea looks behind him for guidance from the line.

The free he ends up taking is nothing really. It’s not any sort of ball dropped in and it’s not got the legs you’d expect of a shot that has any conviction about it.

If he was dropping it in, why from the free? There’s been a smart trend recently where, in that situation, teams will go short from the free first and then lob it in, as that changes the square ball rule to the attacking team’s advantage.

Their whole air suggests it was an attempt for a point. Tommy Conroy was the Mayo player beneath the ball when it fell short. He wasn’t even looking at it when O’Shea kicked the ball, engaged in conversation with Stephen Sherlock and the referee.

Aidan O’Shea won’t have to search too hard through the cupboard to find his flak jacket. It’s had maybe more outings than any jacket in human history.

Part of his effectiveness down the years has been his willingness to stand up and take responsibility. Sometimes he hasn’t matched that with the delivery, and that makes him an easy target.

Perhaps for his own good as much as anything, it’s time for him to shed that and let somebody else take the kicking.

Losing the game was a far bigger crime than the free.

When Tommy Conroy cuts inside and finds the top corner, it’s toast. All they have to do from there is frustrate and half-foul and play keep-ball, draw Cork out, chip a few more, win by four or five.

Instead, from the resulting kickout, the ball is inside the Mayo square before there’s any contact on a Cork player.

Diarmuid O’Connor gets badly caught by the kick-pass to Colm O’Callaghan, committing to go and win the ball, getting nowhere near it. O’Callaghan is gone, headed for goal.

The penalty award itself was highly questionable. But what Mayo did for the next eight minutes wipes out any excuses they might have.

Colm Reape trying to kick a free over from almost 60 metres into a wind. His casual kickout was easily intercepted for Cork’s equaliser.

They allowed John Cleary’s men to get out short from their kickouts and got hemmed in on their own by a smart press where Cork cut off their bunch-and-break by organising themselves well in the spaces Reape wanted to kick into.

Cork, top scorers in the top three tiers of this year’s league, hit 1-6 unanswered in the last 18 minutes.

For a county sick of poring over the small stuff, Mayo really got the small stuff badly wrong on Sunday afternoon.

The price of it could be an All-Ireland that’s sitting there to be won.

When they lost their grip on top spot once Cork went ahead, the draw as it panned out would have had them facing Roscommon in Castlebar. That in itself was hardly appealing given how difficult they found that challenge last month.

But if Kevin McStay’s worst enemy was let choose a scenario, this was it. Galway away.

For a county that was terrified of Croke Park for so long, they've developed a really good record there. When they get there, they look like a much better side. Their athleticism comes to the fore.

Mayo won the league final with Galway there, having rescued a draw in the first league game with Ryan O’Donoghue’s fine finish.

But a provincial battle in a provincial venue is a different thing altogether.

When Galway rolled out their double sweeper system in Castlebar last year, Mayo dominated 70 per cent of the ball, ran most of the game, but still found themselves six down with six minutes to go. They clawed it back to one but their inability to penetrate the maroon cover had ultimately undone them.

If either or both of Damien Comer and Sean Kelly are unavailable it potentially swings it. Shane Walsh’s form, Rob Finnerty’s injuries, it just hasn’t clicked in attack the way Padraic Joyce would have hoped in their bid to back up last summer’s run.

Galway are vulnerable themselves. You could argue they’ve nobody to blame either, but there was always a chance they’d be put to the wall by Armagh. Their position going into the weekend, even the last 20 minutes of Sunday’s game, was nowhere near as stable.

Kerry still look like the team with the most improvement and the fewest significant injury concerns. They have to be seen as favourites. Just not by any huge margin.

A day of incredible drama only strengthens the argument that this is anyone’s All-Ireland.

Come 5pm on Sunday, one of Galway or Mayo won’t be among the anyones left.

If that is to be Mayo’s fate, it will be right up there with their worst acts of self-sabotage.