Facile win for Cork
THE early indications were that Down might put it up to Cork in last Sunday's NFL encounter at Páirc Uí Chaoimh. But by the end of the first half, the deal was effectively done and dusted after the Rebels rammed in three goals to completely knock the stuffing from the visitors' challenge.
Leading by 3-5 to 0-5 at the interval, Cork comfortably maintained the whip-hand throughout the second half, and the result served to fuel the notion that Down have gone way back since emerging from relative obscurity to contest the All-Ireland final in 2010. They ran Cork to a point in the showpiece two years ago, but this was their third defeat at the hands of Conor Counihan's men in the meantime.
Although well beaten in the league and in the championship last year, Down's display on this occasion was particularly demoralising for team boss James McCartan as they looked very much out of their depth once Cork got into their stride. They offered little more than token resistance in the second half, and the full extent of their limitations can be gauged from the fact that their return from play over the 70 minutes amounted to just four points.
Cork's performance - which yielded a 13th win from 14 league games at home since Counihan took the helm in 2008 - didn't leave too much to be desired, but, in view of Down's woeful efforts, it was nothing to write home about.
It was highlighted by three goals from Pa Kelly, and even more so by a five-star display from Donncha O'Connor at full forward. The Ballydesmond clubman finished with just one point from play to his credit, but he was a central figure in the majority of Cork's fruitful raids, especially in the first half. Down full back Dan McCartan endured 27 uncomfortable minutes on O'Connor's watch before moving to wing back in a switch with Gerard McCartan, who fared no better in his efforts to police the Cork No 14.
With three points on the board inside 11 minutes, Down could hardly have made a more encouraging start, but 22 minutes were to elapse before they added to their tally. In the interim, Cork had clocked up 2-4, hitting the front for the first time after Donncha O'Connor knocked a Paul Kerrigan cross into the path of Pa Kelly, who showed good composure to finish with style in the 26th minute.
Kerrigan, who became eligible for duty after Cork successfully lodged an appeal against his sending-off in the drawn encounter with Armagh the previous weekend, had replaced the out-of-touch Fiachra Lynch at corner forward after 24 minutes, and he added a bit more pace to the attack where the up-and-coming Mark Collins built on an impressive display against Armagh with another assured outing on the 40.
Pa Kelly's first goal left Cork 1-3 to 0-3 to the good, and they had opened up a seven-point gap, 2-4 to 0-3, after Kelly struck again in the 28th minute. It was a give-away goal by Down, with keeper Brendan McVeigh having a sloppy pass intercepted by Pearse O'Neill, who presented Kelly with a chance that he simply couldn't miss.
Cork were clearly in the ascendancy at that stage, with O'Neill and Alan O'Connor in control at midfield, and Fintan Goold, after an uncertain start, and newcomer Barry O'Driscoll both paying their way on the right flank of attack.
The picture was every bit as bright at the back where Michael Shields, who surged upfield to land a booming point which made it 0-3 apiece after 22 minutes, arguably earned the main plaudits, keeping a tight rein on Benny Coulter from the outset.
With Graham Canty also having the measure of Down's other key forward Danny Hughes, the Cork rearguard, in which Ray Carey, Eoin Cadogan, Paudie Kissane and Noel O'Leary all performed creditably, was never under any real pressure after conceding three early points.
It meant that the possibility of Down mounting any semblance of a comeback became extremely remote after Donncha O'Connor made the final pass to Mark Collins in a slick Cork raid culminating in a foul on the latter in the square and an expert conversion by O'Connor from the resultant penalty in stoppage time.
The second half proceeded along anticipated lines, with Cork content to do little more than was required to keep Down under the thumb, and they compounded the misery of the hapless Mourne men when the industrious Kelly, who processed an amount of ball on the left wing, completed his hat-trick in the 49th minute. Again Kelly took his chance with aplomb after the irrepressible Donncha O'Connor had created the opening, and the outclassed losers, trailing now by 4-7 to 0-7, probably couldn't wait to hear the final whistle after that.
They were all of fifteen points in arrears before Aidan Carey and Liam Doyle shared a couple of late scores from frees which made things look a little more respectable at the finish. It was a facile win for Cork, and they now have three points in the bag from two outings.
While there is still a lot of football to be played and there are stiffer assignments ahead, they are already bang on course to secure one of the semi-final places up for grabs in an eight-team group in Division 1.
Scorers Cork: P Kelly 3-0, D O'Connor 1-4, 1-0 penalty, 0-3 frees, B O'Driscoll 0-2, M Collins, M Shields, F Goold, A O'Connor and P O'Neill 0-1 each. Down: A Carr 0-4, 0-3 frees, L Doyle 0-3 frees, C Laverty, A Brannigan and D Gordon 0-1 each.
Cork: A Quirke (Valley Rovers), R Carey (Clyda Rovers), E Cadogan (Douglas), M Shields (St Finbarr's), G Canty (Bantry Blues), P Kissane (Clyda Rovers), N O'Leary (Kilnamartyra), A O'Connor (St Colum's), P O'Neill (Aghada), F Goold (Macroom), M Collins (Castlehaven), P Kelly (Ballincollig), B O'Driscoll (Nemo Rangers), D O'Connor (Ballydesmond), F Lynch (Valley Rovers). Subs: P Kerrigan (Nemo Rangers) for Lynch, E Cotter (Douglas) for Cadogan (injured), S Kiely (Macroom) for O'Leary, L Shorten (Ballingeary) for Goold), N Murphy (Carrigaline) for A O'Connor.
Down: B McVeigh, D Turley, D McCartan, O Costello, G McCartan, L Doyle, K Quinn, P Turley, D Gordon, D Hughes, A Carr, A Branigan, B Coulter, C Laverty, M Poland. Subs, C Garvey for D McCartan, C Maginn for Poland, A McArdle for P Turley, K McTiernan for G McCartan, B McArdle for Costello.
Referee: R Hickey (Clare).
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