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All Ireland Football Championship: Down given food for thought by Cork

THE enormity of the task confronting Down in their bid to collect what would be a sixth All Ireland title became even more abundantly clear yesterday.

And it certainly was not because of the level of conviction, fluency and finishing power that Cork displayed in squeezing out Dublin by a solitary point in a riveting Croke Park semi-final.

Rather it’s because Cork manager Conor Counihan, perturbed with his team’s anaemic first-half offering in particular and shocked by the errors that riddled their play for the most part, has already sounded an ominous warning as his side set their sights on the final.

“Look, we have a big job of work to do,” rapped Counihan.

“We were very disappointed that we did not take our chances. Instead, we made things very tight for ourselves.

“That kind of finishing certainly would not do against either Down or Kildare. We will be seeking a big improvement.”

But if Counihan was preoccupied with his team’s shortcomings, Down manager James McCartan unsurprisingly pinpointed their indomitable spirit, their marked tendency not to panic even when swimming against the tide and the decisive impact that their substitutes made.

“Cork got over the line but they will have absorbed big lessons from yesterday’s game,” observed McCartan. “While we are concentrating totally on Kildare, it certainly would be foolish what ever happens not to take on board just where Cork are at right now.”

His own side have already beaten reigning champions Kerry at the quarter-final stage but now the real hard work would appear to loom ahead beginning with the Kildare clash.

Victory over Kieran McGeeney’s side would set Down up for a September 19 showdown with the Leesiders which would certainly capture the sporting imagination.

And while everyone in the Mourne camp is today fully digesting the implications of yesterday’s semi-final outcome, this is not being allowed to deflect them from their immediate goal.

Benny Coulter has watched successive Down teams flirt with the possibility of success in an Ulster championship if not quite an All Ireland context since making his debut 11 years ago but last night he acknowledged that even though Cork finished strongly he quickly

reiterated that the current Mourne outfit is well-equipped for the challenge that lies ahead.

“We recognise that Cork will now really have the bit between their teeth in terms of trying to land ‘Sam’ but we will be going back to Croke Park on Sunday for the third time this year and we should be comfortable there,” declared Coulter.

“I believe that Cork will obviously have benefited greatly from yesterday’s match in that they won without playing to their best.

“They now have four weeks in which to prepare for the final but we will keep faith in our own ability and focus strongly on our game plan.”

Just like Down to date, Cork reaped a rich dividend from the introduction of substitutes Nicholas Murphy, Colm O’Neill and Derek Kavanagh from their bench yesterday.

All three were outstanding in the closing phase of the contest just as Ronan Murtagh, Peter Fitzpatrick and Conor Maginn starred in bringing Down over the line against Kerry.

“There is absolutely no doubt that a strong bench is essential for success in the modern game and we are fortunate in that we have players challenging strongly for places,” added the Mourne marksman.

“Cork proved yesterday that they have a lot of experience overall and I think that their manager will now have some interesting options before him when it comes to naming his team for the final.

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