All Ireland Football Championship: How Down lost it
A marked inability to counter Cork’s second-half dominance at midfield, a tendency to give away frees even on occasions when no real danger threatened, the fact that the normally prolific Brendan Coulter and Martin Clarke only scored one point from play between them, and the negligible impact made by their substitutes all contributed to the dismantling of Down’s dream of All-Ireland glory.
Stripped of the services of skipper Ambrose Rogers from the outset because of injury, the golden-shirted Down lacked real leadership, too, and were unable to win breaking ball when they needed it most because of the physicality and power of their opponents, particularly in the middle third of the pitch.
And while Clarke landed three points from frees, he was unable to score from open play while Coulter’s solitary score did not arrive until the 69th minute by which stage the force was very much with Cork.
Clarke was shadowed diligently throughout by Noel O’Leary a normally fiery wing-back who on this occasion did not get up close and personal with the Down talisman but rather continually jockeyed him, forcing him to unload the ball and then tracking his subsequent run.
Coulter was contained by full-back Michael Shields, Cork’s captain at the start when Graham Canty did not line out and the Down veteran also got little change our of Eoin Cadogan too.
In their last four championship outings, Down have benefited from substantial contributions from substitutes such as Conor Maginn and Ronan Murtagh. But although the latter did manage to swing over a point, he might have wielded a bigger influence had he been sent in earlier. Maginn was unable to make any impact against a Cork defence that had grown in confidence by the time he was introduced.
Cork finished strongly but it was clear that the effort involved in trying to curb their opponents at midfield and keeping tabs on the lightning trusts of Paul Kerrigan in particular had taken their toll on Down as the team tired in the closing stages.
Yet they managed to pilfer the last two points through Coulter and Hughes but by that stage it was a case of too little to late.