Down up ante but are sunk by Cork's last play
Down 1-17 Cork 3-12
On a day when redemption topped their shopping list, Down were sold the ultimate heartbreak in the most dramatic of circumstances.
Their best performance for some time had taken them to the threshold of what looked like being a notable victory only for fate to intervene when Ciaran Sheehan stabbed home Cork's third goal with the last kick of the match to rob the home side of a much-needed boost in their bid to avoid relegation.
Little wonder then that manager James McCartan, having watched his team play with considerable panache and unrelenting commitment, was devastated at the finish.
"I'm sick," he lamented, "I thought our first half display was the best since I took over and although Cork came back at us in the third quarter, we still managed to get ahead again and obviously it looked as if we might win up until that last goal."
But McCartan conceded that all three Cork goals had been gift-wrapped to a greater or lesser extent.
"Look, I am not going to blame individuals but the goals came not because of the way we were set up but because of human error. I know people have been talking about our defence but I thought we did well for the most part except for the goals," said McCartan.
If Cork's opportunism left Down numb in the end, then Aidan Walsh's towering performance at midfield, the defensive ability of Noel O'Leary and Eoin O'Mahoney and the work-rate of Colm O'Neill and Paul Kerrigan up front did much to keep Cork afloat.
Down were much more fluent in the first half, pushing forward at every opportunity with Benny Coulter a capable target man. With just over a quarter of an hour gone, Down were ahead by 0-4 to 0-1 and Donal O'Hare, who was to stockpile nine points in all, had already underlined his accuracy by whipping over three points from play.
But Walsh's considerable authority at midfield saw him become the catalyst for Cork's attacking strategy.
Down's vulnerability at the back was highlighted in the 17th minute when Kevin McKernan and goalkeeper Michael Cunningham both failed to deal with a long, probing delivery from Kerrigan and wing-back Thomas Clancy was on hand to flick the ball into the net.
Yet Down still managed to reel off the next four points and after O'Connor converted a Cork free, the Mournemen received a considerable shot in the arm when full-forward Connaire Harrison collected Conor Laverty's cross from the right and rounded Michael Shields before firing a superb shot past Ken O'Halloran.
The score opened up a five-point gap but Down inexplicably erred on the side of generosity yet again when just before half-time goalkeeper Michael Cunningham failed to field a hopeful punt from O'Connor and the ball rebounded into the net off the unfortunate Benny McArdle.
Cork retained the initiative in the third quarter, registering five points. But McCartan's interval rhetoric still bore fruit as Down enjoyed a stunning 10 minute spell during which O'Hare (3), Harrison and McKernan landed scores that pushed their side into a two-point lead at 1-15 to 2-10.
Down looked to have eased their relegation concerns until that last-gasp decisive Sheehan goal which saw the reigning league champions plunder an unlikely victory.
Down: M Cunningham; D McCartan, B McArdle, R Boyle; R Mallon (0-1), A Carr (0-1), P McComiskey (0-1); K King, K McKernan (0-1); C Laverty (0-1), M Poland (0-2), K Quinn; D O'Hare (0-9, 0-7 frees), C Harrison (1-1), B Coulter. Subs: J Johnston for Quinn (47 mins), E McCartan for King (54), S McArdle for O'Hare (63). Yellow cards: Quinn (25 mins).
Cork: K O'Halloran; M Shields, E O'Mahoney, E Cadogan; T Clancy (1-0), N O'Leary, J O'Sullivan; G Canty, A Walsh (0-4, 0-1 '45'); F Goold, C Sheehan (1-1), P Kerrigan (0-1); B O'Driscoll, C O'Neill (0-2, both frees), D O'Connor (0-4, 0-3frees). Subs: P Kissane for O'Mahoney (Half-time), B O'Driscoll for Collins (59 mins), A O'Sullivan for Kerrigan (62.) Yellow cards: Goold (19mins), Cadogan (28), Kissane (47), Walsh (50), O'Leary (56), O'Driscoll (63).
Referee: Maurice Deegan (Laois).