All-Ireland final: Down 0-15 Cork 0-16
Down and out on Hill 16 as Rebels with a cause hold on
No formulaic, happy Hollywood ending to Down’s stirring All-Ireland Championship odyssey, then.
Instead, just the gut-wrenching pain of defeat and with it the rupture of a proud tradition in finals which had its origins in that trail-blazing 1960 triumph.
Yesterday the latest generation of successors to those heroes ultimately found Cork’s hunger, marked experience and machine-gun accuracy too much to bear.
From a team that looked nothing more than a bundle of stage-fright in the opening half, Cork morphed into a relentless attacking force before finally regaining their status among football’s privileged classes having been cast in the role of paupers for so long.
If Down were at their most eloquent in the first-half, then Conor Counihan’s side, bolstered by the arrival of heavy artillery in the form of Nicholas Murphy and Graham Canty after the break, discovered a fresh dynamic that was to see them exorcise the demons which have plagued their All Ireland ambitions in recent years.
But James McCartan’s side will, on reflection, rue the fact that this one slipped from their grasp.
Their defensive road-blocks frustrated Cork in the first-half as did their elegant passing and with the wind in their sails — particularly when they were 0-7 to 0-2 ahead — they looked destined to enhance their glorious record.
But the sighing and wheezing that had accompanied the Leesiders’ early efforts were replaced by a more coherent attacking strategy and the kind of finishing skills, supplied by Daniel Goulding and Donnacha O’Connor, that are designed to break the hearts of opponents.
While Down’s five All-Irelands to date fuelled their first-half endeavours, when Cork lifted their game to a more competitive pitch it became clear their recent travails in finals were set to be erased.
And while substitute Murphy proved the perfect foil for hard-working Aidan Walsh in midfield, O’Connor and Goulding with a helping hand from Paul Kerrigan and Ciaran Sheehan set about converting possession into points in a manner to which the Mourne men had no real response.
While McCartan’s meticulous tactical calculations carried his side along on a wave of expectancy, it was in the hot belly of a raucous stadium after the break that Cork’s skill and majestic scoring power unfolded with telling consequences for their Ulster foes.
With Kalum King largely subdued at midfield, Martin Clarke only a peripheral influence for the most part and Danny Hughes closely policed after the break Down’s main men were unable to provide the spark to halt the Cork juggernaut.
Down certainly put in a hard shift overall — McKernan, Rooney and goalkeeper McVeigh epitomised their fighting spirit — but an inability to function smoothly in the middle third after the break was to prove their undoing.
Cork, in contrast, revealed greater economy, more subtle passing and renewed poise especially when storming down the
Yet when Sheehan missed a gilt-edged goal opportunity in the first minute — Brendan McVeigh’s superb save prevented early embarrassment for Down — the suspicion even then began to form in the mind that it might not be Cork’s day.
By half-time, their limitations had already been sharply highlighted.
It was not until the 31st minute, indeed, that they landed their first point from play by which stage Down had already served notice that title number six was well within their grasp.
Cork’s then anaemic attack failed to reveal any real level of penetration whereas in contrast Down, following an early brace of points from Hughes and McComiskey, then rattled off five on the bounce between the 13th and 25th minutes to exert a considerable degree of control.
Two Martin Clarke scores from frees were complemented by points from his brother John and further strikes from McComiskey and Hughes as the Mournemen streaked into a 0-7 to 0-2 lead.
It was not until the five-minute spell prior to half-time that Cork unveiled a ration of creativity, Daniel Goulding piloting over a fine point before Donnacha O’Connor swung over the score of the half to leave Cork three points in arrears at the break at 0-8 to 0-5.
But with Murphy employing his considerable bulk to good effect and O’Connor proving a hot handful for Dan Gordon, Cork began to take the direct route to the Down posts and decorated their play with stretches of flair.
When O’Connor reduced the deficit to just two points (0-10 to 0-8) in the 46th minute, the notion that Cork did after all possess an overdrive gear began to form.
Confirmation arrived seven minutes later when the sides were level at 0-11 each, O’Connor, Goulding and Sheehan landing the scores that cemented Cork’s rehabilitation.
From then on, Goulding held the front-stage role. Not many players convert three successive ‘45s in an All-Ireland final — Goulding did. And not too many players leave Dan Gordon red-faced — O’Connor did.
No big surprise then that between them the Cork duo collated an incredible 0-14 of their team’s total with Goulding landing 0-9, including two from play.
Having hit four unanswered
points between the 55th and 59th minutes before being forced to curb a token Down revival that yielded points from Coulter and Hughes, Cork had sufficient belief, stamina and resilience to provide solid proof that everything does after all come to those who wait.
DOWN: B McVeigh; D McCartan, D Gordon, D Rafferty; D Rooney, K McKernan (0-1), C Garvey; K King, P Fitzpatrick (0-1); D Hughes (0-3), M Poland (0-1), B Coulter (0-1); P McComiskey, J Clarke (0-1), M Clarke (0-3, all frees). Subs: C Maginn for J Clarke (44 mins), R Murtagh for McComiskey (55), B McArdle for Rafferty (57), C Laverty for Poland (64). Yellow cards: Fitzpatrick (44 mins), Gordon (44), Coulter (60).
CORK: A Quirke; E Cadogan, M Shields, R Carey; N O’Leary, G Canty, P Kissane; A O’Connor, A Walsh; C Sheehan (0-1), P O’Neill, P Kelly; D Goulding (0-9, 0-4 frees, 0-3 ‘45s’) , D O’Connor (0-5, 0-2 frees), P Kerrigan (0-1). Subs: N Murphy for A O'Connor (half-time), G Canty for Kissane (41 mins0, C O’Neill for P O’Neill (55), D Kavanagh for O’Leary (64), J Hayes for Kerrigan (68).
Yellow cards; Kerrigan (23 mins).
Referee: David Coldrick (Meath).