National Football League: Cork 3-17 Down 0-15
The thin dividing line that can separate progress from abject failure in the hugely competitive Allianz National Football League Division One arena was starkly articulated by Down manager James McCartan following his team’s surrender to Cork at Pairc Ui Rinn on Saturday night.
If the Leesiders were somewhat fortunate to edge to a one-point victory in last year’s All-Ireland final against the Mournemen, then their handsome 11-point triumph in this renewal of rivalry not only suggests that they could yet claim the league crown but also provides a hint that Down’s security in the top bracket cannot be taken for granted.
His team may have been unbeaten going in against Conor Counihan’s men but McCartan, ever the realist, is quick to recognise that they are now rather more vulnerable.
“I know people are already talking about who might win the league title but I can assure you that remaining in Division One is our number one priority,” he said.
“We knew that Cork at home would be a very tough obstacle and the fact that we lost makes our home game with Monaghan this coming weekend very important indeed.
“We cannot afford to lose any more ground. There is a very slender margin between emerging as a candidate for the title and becoming involved in a relegation dogfight.”
McCartan’s desire to reap maximum points from Monaghan’s visit to Newry is understandable given that his team’s last two scheduled matches are against Dublin and Kerry.
“These will be huge games. I was disappointed with the way in which we fell away against Cork after having done so well for the greater part of the game. But Cork are a strong team,” he added.
Certainly Down’s character were never in question in the first half when, despite conceding a goal that was cleverly finished by Pearse O’Neill, they were only two points behind at the break (1-9 to 0-10).
Yet, although McCartan’s side whipped over three quick points in the opening eight minutes of the second half there was always the sense that Cork would be capable of countering.
This they did in an emphatic manner. Colm O’Neill raced in to score their second goal with 10 minutes left and when Daniel Goulding landed his ninth point and Paddy Kelly pirated a third goal, Down’s unbeaten record had been shattered.
But county board chairman |Seamus Walsh has already urged Down fans to get behind the side.
Walsh said: “Cork are a very physically imposing team and not too many sides leave Pairc Ui Rinn with a win.
“We have to be very positive and I would appeal to all fans to get behind the side now so that at the very least they can maintain their Division One status.”
Cork: K O’Halloran; R Carey, E Cadogan, M Shields; N O’Leary, P Kissane, D O’Sullivan; A O’Connor, N Murphy; F Goold (0-3), P Kelly (1-1), P O’Neill (1-0); D Goulding (0-9, 0-6 frees), C Sheehan (0-1), C O’Neill (1-1). Subs: A Walsh (0-1) for Murphy, S Kiely for O’Sullivan (both 44), F Lynch for O’Leary (61), D Goold (0-1) for C O’Neill (63), J Fitzpatrick for O’Connor (68).
Down: C Murdock (0-1, 45); G McCartan, D Gordon, L Howard; A Brannigan (0-1), |K McKernan (0-1), D Rooney (0-1); |P Fitzpatrick (0-1), K King; D Hughes (0-1), M Poland (0-3, 0-2 frees), C Maginn; |C Laverty (0-1), R Murtagh (0-2), M Clarke (0-2, 0-1 free). Subs: J Colgan for King, |P McComiskey for Murtagh (both 43 mins), C Garvey (0-1) for Howard (48), J Clarke for Laverty (56), A Carr for M Clarke (61).
Referee: Derek Fahey (Longford).