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All Ireland Football Championship: Down meet fans ahead of Croke Park final

By John Campbell

Down could yet discover that a more formidable barrier will be erected to their prospects of mounting a sizeable score in the All Ireland football final on Sunday week.

Child’s play: Ambrose Rogers meets young Down fans in Newry yesterday while James Colgan (right) keeps his spirits up despite the poor weather

Cork manager Conor Counihan has disclosed that key defenders Graham Canty and Anthony Lynch may yet be fit to play at least some part in the game.

Canty was injured again in Cork’s semi-final win over Dublin last month having been doubtful up until shortly before the start and has been receiving intensive treatment since that match.

Lynch, still regarded as one of the best left-full-backs in the country, has not played for Cork for some time because of a troublesome groin injury but has been making considerable progress recently and is now thought to be very close to being in the frame for a starting place against the Mournemen.

Lynch would bring an extra infusion of experience to the rearguard having played in finals in 1999, 2007 and 2009, all of which the Leesiders lost.

His tenacious marking skills and ability to turn defence quickly into attack are assets which Counihan would be happy to avail of particularly as Canty and Lynch could be deployed to police what he views as Down’s chief danger men, Martin Clarke and Benny Coulter.

Because of the roving commission which he currently enjoys within the Down side, Clarke has been proving particularly hard to mark in recent games, his constant movement and intelligent passing invariably rupturing the defensive strategies of opponents.

Even though Cork have reached the All Ireland final, there are still question marks hovering over their rearguard. Ray Carey is not as consistent as he should be at right-full-back while Noel O’Leary is prone to indiscipline at right-half-back despite his ferocious work-rate and Michael Shields is not known for his pace at full-back although he is certainly maturing as a defender.

And while Counihan continues to monitor the progress of both Canty and Lynch, he is also certain to reflect on the composition of his midfield pairing.

In overcoming Roscommon in the quarter-final and Dublin in their semi, Cork were not served particularly well in the central area. Indeed, against Dublin the starting partnership Alan O’Connor and Aidan Walsh had been replaced by the more experienced Derek Kavanagh and Nicholas Murphy before the finish.

Now there is the prospect that this duo will be in line for places against Down although Murphy, ten years in the Cork squad, is still understood to be troubled by an injury while the wholehearted Kavanagh has not had much game time lately.

Nonetheless they are teak-tough competitors to whom Counihan might yet turn in a bid to curb the increasingly high influence that Kalum King is wielding for Down in the middle third of the pitch.

Down’s penchant for sweeping the ball into space and using their pace could prove key weapons against a Cork team that was unconvincing against Roscommon in the quarter-finals and rather fortunate to just squeeze past Dublin at the semi-final stage. In the latter game, the Dubs lapsed into indiscipline in the closing minutes, conceding a goal from a penalty and two points from frees that were to prove very costly in the end.

Meanwhile, the Down county board is launching a poster campaign as part of a ‘Respect’ initiative in advance of the final.

Down officials are disturbed at the amount of booing and heckling to which free-takers in particular have been subjected in recent Croke Park matches and are now urging their own fans to desist from this practice.

County spokesman Ronan McMahon said: “We would have serious concerns about the conduct of some teams’ supporters and we want to take steps in advance of the final to eradicate this if at all possible.”

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