All-Ireland final: Down left to Mourne one that got away
The morgue-like atmosphere in the Down dressing-room amply illustrate the devastation that the squad felt in the wake of a game that eventually slipped from their grasp after they had all but taken ownership of it.
At 0-7 to 0-2 with just a few minutes remaining until half-time, Down were to all intents and purposes more than halfway to what would have been their sixth All Ireland title.
But while the second half transformation that climaxed with Cork finally ending their lengthy All-Ireland title famine spawned heartache for the Mournemen it also evoked a refreshing outpouring of honesty.
And it was Danny Hughes who perhaps best illustrated Down’s acceptance of what was a particularly cruel sporting blow.
“Some people will say that we were burdened by history but that was not the case.
“We did well in the first half but we were not able to win sufficient ball in the middle third of the park in the second period particularly after Cork made their substitutions,” observed Hughes.
And he made it clear that while Down had played as well as they were allowed, Cork had deployed their experience well in the second period of the game.
“It was their more seasoned players who got them over the line,” he admitted.
“They had the forwards too to get them a lot of good scores to which we were unable to respond.”
But he sees an encouraging future for this Down side despite yesterday’s reversal.
“Maybe a few of us like myself, Benny Coulter, Damian Rafferty and a couple of others have been there a while but there are a lot of good young players in the side who can go places and they will be all the better for the experience they have gained this year,” added talisman Hughes.
“We had prepared very well for this match and I thought that James McCartan had us all in great shape both mentally and physically.”
Cork’s dominance in the middle third of the park for the greater part of the second half reinforced the importance of winning breaking ball and Hughes, with typical candour, was not slow to accept a degree of responsibility for Down’s shortcomings in this respect.
“We were not able to get our hands on the ball often enough in that area while Cork managed to get some good possession and that did not help us,” explained Hughes.
Down secretary Sean Og McAteer made it clear that despite the setback against Cork the team will now begin to focus on next year’s campaign.
“Look, if anyone had suggested back in February that we would be
in the All-Ireland final we would willingly have taken it.
“These players, to a man, have been wonderful ambassadors for Down this year. They have the capacity to become even better and with the Ulster Championship draw looming at the start of next month we will be very focused on who we will be pitted against,” stated McAteer.
And he confirmed that tonight’s homecoming carnival will be going ahead with the team expected to arrive at Pairc Esler Newry at about six o’clock.
“The least these lads deserve is a rapturous reception. They only fell by one point after all. I know that we looked very good in the first half but you would have to say that Cork’s experience in having played in two of the last three All-Ireland finals up until this year ultimately stood them in good stead when the heat was on yesterday,” declared McAteer.
Dejected Down chairman Seamus Walsh expressed the view that James McCartan had overseen a dramatic upsurge in Down’s status and is convinced that success either in the form of a provincial title or an All-Ireland title might come next year.
“There are very firm foundations there on which to build,” said Walsh.
“We certainly did not let ourselves down and I have no doubt that all these players will be able to take Down to even better things next year. They have shown magnificent commitment this year and we will now be looking forward to playing in Division One of the National League next year prior to the championship.”