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All Ireland Football Championship: Cork manager Counihan looking to the bench for advantage over Down

By John Campbell

Cork plan to match Down on Sunday in an aspect of Championship football that has carried significant weight this year — the deployment of substitutes.

While James McCartan has summoned Ronan Murtagh, Peter Fitzpatrick and Conor Maginn in particular from his bench with considerable success, Cork boss Conor Counihan has reason to be grateful for the input of players like Colm O’Neill, Derek Kavanagh and Nicholas Murphy.

The latter duo are both vastly experienced but have not been starting in the Championship of late while O’Neill, in his relatively rare appearances to date, has made a marked impact in the Leesiders’ attack.

Counihan, who assessed his squad further in training over the weekend and who plans to confirm his line-up in mid-week, has already made it clear that he feels substitutes will again play a key role in Sunday’s final.

“This sport is about far more than the starting 15. When we beat Dublin in the semi-final it was the contribution of Colm O’Neill, Derek Kavanagh and Nicholas Murphy that really helped to get us across the line and we would be very aware that Down’s substitutes have been performing very well all year,” said Counihan.

“Both teams have maybe 13 or 14 other people in their squads who are capable of doing the business. We have a big job of work on our hands on Sunday, that’s for sure.”

And he added: “We would have preferred had we not got it so tight against Dublin but despite what some people might say there is a great battling quality within this Cork side.

“We created a lot of chances in that match and were disappointed that we did not take a lot of those. But we knew that we had the ability to create and that helped to sustain us

“We knew that if we kept our heads the chances would come again and we hoped to take them then — that’s how it turned out.”

Counihan’s assertion that Dublin boss Pat Gilroy would be “a strong candidate” for any manager of the year award will brook a robust argument in Down where there is a justifiable feeling that James McCartan has worked the equivalent of a sporting miracle and that win, lose or draw on Sunday he would be a deserving winner of any managerial accolade which might be on offer.

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