Once again Croke Park proved the graveyard for Mayo’s trophy hopes yesterday when they extended their dismal sequence of failures there by making it 11 defeats in the last 12 national finals in which they have participated.
And, not for the first time too the westerners, so upbeat prior to the contest, provided their long-suffering supporters with an all-too-familiar false dawn.
Their clinical, composed first-half display, highlighted by some fine finishing from Cillian O’Connor and sustained industry from Keith Higgins, Donal Vaughan, Alan Dillon and Andy Moran, propelled them into a 0-9 to 0-5 interval lead — O’Connor contributed five of their scores — before a muscular Cork outfit imposed almost total authority after the break to collect their third league title on the bounce.
While Mayo renewed their acquaintance with heartbreak, Cork not only remained as the league kingpins but rapped out a stern message that this could yet prove the first leg of an alluring double.
Manager Conor Counihan though was not being drawn on the subject of his team’s potential as All-Ireland champions.
“We are very happy to take this league title, they are all important as far as we are concerned,” said the Rebels boss.
“We still have some work to do and there is a long way to go before the destination of other trophies is decided.”
Yet the manner in which his side pummelled Mayo into submission in the second-half will surely not be lost on those sides with viable aspirations of being in the mix for the Sam Maguire Cup.
With veteran war-horses Pearse O’Neill and Alan O’Connor holding sway at midfield, Cork mounted their takeover bid in impressive style by scoring 1-4 without reply between the 36th and 46th minutes, Colm O’Neill’s smartly-taken goal proving the catalyst that was to drive them to victory.
In an increasingly fractious contest — referee Maurice Deegan flashed a plethora of yellow cards — Cork thundered forward at every opportunity with Paul Kerrigan and Paddy Kelly providing an abundance of creative flair.
And when Aidan Walsh gratefully gobbled up a Fintan Goold shot that came back off a post in the 54th minute, he needed no second invitation to put the issue beyond doubt by driving in his team’s second goal.
Mayo, restricted to just one score from play in the second period, subsequently imploded, their fire extinguished and their hitherto credible ambitions of perhaps mounting the All-Ireland throne, temporarily at least shunted forcibly onto the back burner.
Their hopes of a first league title since 2001 are now over as Counihan’s side outscored their opponents by 2-5 to 0-2 in the second half to secure the first three-in-a-row since Kerry managed the feat in the early 1970s.
Mayo: D Clarke; K Keane, G Cafferkey, K Higgins (0-1); L Keegan, D Vaughan (0-1), C Boyle; B Moran, J Gibbons; K McLoughlin (0-1), A Moran (0-1), A Dillon; C Mortimer (0-1, free), C O'Connor (0-6, 0-5 frees), M Conroy. Subs: P Harte for Gibbons (40), E Varley for Conroy (47), D Geraghty for B Moran (56), J Doherty for O’Connor (61), R Feeney for Dillon (68).
Cork: A Quirke; R Carey, M Shields, E Cadogan; N O'Leary, G Canty (0-1, free), P Kissane; P O'Neill (0-2), A O'Connor (0-1); F Goold (0-2), P Kelly (0-1), P Kerrigan; C O'Neill (1-0), A Walsh (1-0), D O'Connor (0-2, 0-1 free). Subs: B O’Driscoll for A Walsh (58-64, temp), D Goudling (0-1) for C O’Neill (64), N Murphy for A O’Connor (64), B O’Driscoll for P O’Neill (68).
Referee: Maurice Deegan (Laois).