Counihan gave credit to Mayo for their performance. INPHO/Donall Farmer

GAA reaction: Counihan pleased with result rather than performance

Meanwhile, James Horan was content with his side’s recent progress, in spite of their loss today.

NOT QUITE THE beautiful game and not quite an encounter that has you lusting after summer.

Cork were as comfortable as the game was cynical and had far too much physical power for a Mayo side that struggled once the supply of frees dried up after the break. But to be surprised by that is to be naïve because that’s just how the Munster side win. They may have a quality group of forwards but they always grind you down before the likes of Colm O’Neill and Donncha O’Connor ever run wild. They take a strange pleasure in bludgeoning you to death as opposed to cutting you open and that’s exactly what happened here. It was ugly but it was mighty effective.

No team has won three leagues in a row since Kerry in 1973 and Conor Counihan has gotten used to putting this trophy into context. When you are as good as his Cork are, this has to be a start rather than an end or the season will be seen as a disappointment, so there was plenty of context in his words.

“In terms of the result we are happy, particularly the second half,” he said. “I felt we lacked intensity in the first half, turned over a lot of ball, silly stuff. But to be fair to the group they rallied after the break, played with a bit of patience and the goals were crucial. When we were playing into the Hill in the first half, a lot of ball seemed to run fierce fast away from our forwards. In the second half we kicked some good scores. Mayo didn’t seem to attempt that in the first half but the points we kicked were a fairly good standard.

“So we are pleased because there are 31 teams out there that would love to be champions. We will enjoy tonight but we know the championship is a different ball game. But it’s important to enjoy the occasion, national titles are rare for Cork and we are very pleased to have three in a row. But last year we went out of here champions and the season didn’t go well after that, albeit we had injuries and everything. We need to realise 10 June is a big obstacle and we need to focus on that.”

Asked about a game that seemed to bubble with nastiness throughout, Counihan denied it.

“I didn’t think there was any exceptional niggle in it. It was hard fought, everyone was going hard at it and the fact everyone finished up on the field suggests it wasn’t that bad. We are just pleased and to come out in the second half and get stuck in and get the scores when the pressure was on was most satisfying. Mayo came here with a fair amount of resolve, we knew they were formidable and I think they still will be formidable. So the league was great to win but the reality is championship is a whole new ball game.”

Mayo manager James Horan reiterated that point. He looked frustrated but it’s easy to forget where the county were before he took this job. This wasn’t pretty, but it’s nowhere near as ugly as being bundled out of the championship by Longford in Pearse Park like they were a couple of years back.

“We took a lot from the league,” he said. “If you take the upward curve over the course of it, we made a lot of progress. We learned an awful lot about a lot of players and of course it would have been nice to win a national title but we got to the final and it’s been beneficial and there’s been progress. The other side of that is, we made some runs, ran into traffic and weren’t strong enough to get through it.

“We either turned the ball over or gave away a lot of soft frees that way so that gave them momentum when we were trying to get back into the game. We’ve made progress from a strength and conditioning point of view but we’ve a long way to go to catch some of the real big teams. So we’ve plenty of work to do there.

“As well as that we didn’t play at the level we can and we are disappointed with that. But even with that we didn’t play well in the first half and were four points up at the break  but overall the game was disappointing and we didn’t play at the level we can. There was a lot of slipping and ball being spilled and Cork won the majority of that and ate up the breaking ball better than we did. That gave them momentum they needed.

“Our work rate was okay but it wasn’t our best. With 10 minutes to go we looked tired and flat and that’s not the work rate you need to win national titles so we’ll take that on board. But Cork were good today, they were strong. Maybe they didn’t let us play like we can. That was a key factor.”

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