Corks resolve foils Down
IT looked destined to go down to the wire with 25 minutes remaining, but Cork ultimately ran out winners by eleven points in a highly entertaining NFL clash with Down at Pairc Ui Rinn last Saturday evening.
As in last year's All-Ireland final, Cork benefited from the introduction of a few substitutes, most notably All-Star Aidan Walsh, who made an immediate impact at midfield after being sprung from the bench in the 44th minute.
In essence, however, it was their unwavering resolve and determination which enabled the Rebels to foil Down's vibrant bid to gain a modicum of revenge for their defeat in the 2010 championship showpiece.
Perhaps the main message to emerge from the proceedings, and the most encouraging aspect of the performance from the mentors' point of view, was that Cork's hunger for success hasn't been diluted by their glorious achievements last year.
They were under pressure for long periods in the first half when Down, thanks primarily to the efforts of the industrious Peter Fitzpatick, shaded the issue at midfield, and the visitors' lively attack moved with admirable fluency and cohesion.
It was obvious that the Mourne men, fielding with nine players who started in the All-Ireland final, were fully fired up for the contest, and that they weren't in the least bit intimidated by the task of taking on Cork on their home patch.
That was underlined by the manner in which they made light of the concession of a goal in the 6th minute to enjoy much the better of the exchanges over the next 20 minutes.
The Cork rearguard was regularly stretched in this period, with Mark Poland showing up well on the '40 against Cork rookie Denis O'Sullivan, and Danny Hughes and Ronan Murtagh others to the fore.
The player who pulled most of the strings for Down before the break, however, was roaming corner forward Marty Clarke, who sprayed kicked-passes about with radar-like accuracy.
Eoin Cadogan was detailed to pick up Clarke from the outset, with Michael Shields moving on to Ronan Murtagh and Ray Carey squaring up to Conor Laverty in a two-man full back line
Cadogan struggled to get a handle on Clarke, resulting in Cork taking remedial action, with Noel O'Leary switching on to the gifted Down attacker towards the end of the first half.
That did the trick as O'Leary replicated his performance against Clarke in the All-Ireland final, removing much of the potency from the Down attack in the process.
At the other end, Cork had the facility to make headway in the half forward line where Fintan Goold, Patrick Kelly and Pearse O'Neill were all quick to settle, while Daniel Goulding was a constant threat at right corner forward.
Allied with a solid contribution from Alan O'Connor, it meant that Cork stood up well to Down's laudable attempt to get a foothold on the game in the first half.
Down served notice of their intentions with a brace of points inside two minutes, but Cork had drawn level before Alan O'Connor knocked a high ball down to Paudie Kissane, who surged forward to deliver a measured fist-pass into the path of Pearse O'Neill at the edge of the square.
O'Neill first-timed the ball to the net with some style, and a Fintan Goold point followed to push Cork 1-3 to 0-2 ahead in the 9th minute.
With Down outscoring Cork by six points to two, it was 1-5 to 0-8 after 27 minutes, and the Northerners might have had a goal three minutes earlier when corner forward Conor Laverty failed to make the most of a chance stemming from good work by Peter Fitzpatrick and wing forward Conor Maglin. After the ball was scrambled out for a '45, 'keeper Colin Murdock converted the resultant opportunity before Marty Clarke brought Down back on terms.
Pearse O'Neill's goal had sustained Cork for much of the first half, and, while they responded well, with Colm O'Neill and the razor-sharp Goulding notching points from play, before the break, they were slightly flattered to turn over leading by 1-9 to 0-10.
Down remained full of fight on the resumption, gaining parity again, 1-10 to 0-13, by the 43rd minute.
But Cork gradually began to assert their authority, and Patrick Kelly was hugely influential on the '40 as they moved thee points clear before Colm O'Neill latched on to a delivery from Noel O'Leary to score a splendid individual goal in the 55th minute.
At that stage, Aidan Walsh had made his presence felt to give Cork a pronounced grip at midfield, while newcomer Sean Kiely also did well after being drafted in at centre back.
In addition, Eoin Cadogan thundered into the picture at wing back, and Noel O'Leary kept a tight rein on Marty Clarke, with the Kilnamartyra man's task being made all the easier by the fact that Clarke, with the exertions of his first half foraging possibly taking a toll, adopted an orthodox role in the full forward line.
After Cadogan powered upfield to place Ciaran Sheehan for a score, substitute Conor Garvey pulled a point back to leave Down trailing by 2-15 to 0-15 approaching the last ten minutes.
They failed to score again, however, and their misery was compounded when wing back Aidan Brannigan was issued with a straight red card in the 64th minute.
Leading by seven points, Cork were clearly home and hosed at that juncture, and Ciaran Sheehan, who finished very strongly up front, stretched the gap before beginning a move which enabled Patrick Kelly to embellish their victory with a well-taken goal in stoppage time.
Scorers - Cork: D Goulding 0-7, 0-5 frees, P Kelly 1-2, 0-1 free, C O'Neill 1-1, P O'Neill 1-0, F Goold 0-3, C Sheehan 0-2, A Walsh and D Goold 0-1 each.
Down: M Poland 0-3, 0-2, R Murtagh 0-2, M Clarke 0-2, 0-1 free, K McKernan, C Murdock, free, P Fitzpatrick, C Laverty, D Hughes, D Rooney, A Branagan and C Garvey 0-1 each.
Cork: K O'Halloran, R Carey, M Shields, E Cadogan, N O'Leary, D O'Sullivan, P Kissane, A O'Connor, N Murphy, F Goold, P Kelly, P O'Neill, D Goulding, C O'Neill, C Sheehan. Subs, A Walsh for Murphy, S Kiely for O'Sullivan, D Goold for C O'Neill, J Fitzpatrick for O'Connor.
Down: C Murdock, G McCartan, D Gordon, l Howard, A Branagan, K McKernan, D Rooney, P Fitzpatrick, K King, D Hughes, M Poland, C Maglin, C Laverty, R Murtagh, M Clarke. Subs, J Colgan for King, P McComiskey for Murtagh, C Garvey for Howard, J Clarke for Laverty, A Carr for M Clarke.
Referee - D Fahy (Longford)
That Cork led at half time owed much to the input from Daniel Goulding at corner forward, but Patrick Kelly was a key figure on the '40 as they made a decisive push for victory in the third quarter.
Down were already showing signs of wilting when Colm O'Neill fired in Cork's second goal in the 55th minute to make it 2-14 to 0-14 and effectively remove any lingering doubts about the outcome.
Value For Money
A pulsating contest containing free-flowing football and quality scores in abundance, it was augmented by an exemplary level of sportsmanship.
Cork finished the game much the stronger, suggesting they have been working hard on their fitness levels since returning from a pre-season holiday.
Derek Fahey might have made one or two questionable calls, but his overall performance left nothing to be desired.
Cork will travel to take on struggling Galway on Sunday, while Down will have home advantage for their clash with Monaghan on Saturday night.
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