Cork: K. O’Halloran; R. Carey; E. Cadogan; M. Shields; N. O’Leary (F. Lynch); P. Kissane; D. O’Sullivan (S. Kiely) A. O’Connor (J. Fitzpatrick); N. Murphy (A. Walsh, 0-1); F. Goold (0-3); P. Kelly (1-2, 0-1f); P. O’Neill (1-0); D. Goulding (0-7, o-5f); C. Sheehan (0-2); C. O’Neill (1-1; D. Goold, 0-1).
Down: C. Murdock (0-1f); G. McCartan; D. Gordon; L. Howard (C. Garvey, 0-1); A. Branagan (0-1); K. McKernan (0-1); D. Rooney (0-1); P. Fitzpatrick (0-1); K. King (J. Colgan); D. Hughes (0-1); M. Poland (0-3; 0-2f); C. Maginn; C. Laverty (0-1; J. Clarke); R. Murtagh (0-2; M. Comiskey); M. Clarke (0-2, 0-1f; A. Carr).
Possibly Cork’s most impressive performance yet. Although the scoreline is somewhat misleading – the game was close up until Cork’s second goal near the 50 minute mark – Cork were far more clinical and far more powerful then their lively opponents as the game wound on. The final quarter – even accepting for the tiredness of the opposition and their mediocre full-back line – showed real arrogance as our movement, fitness and aggression began to tear a porous Down defence apart. One common, and often unfair, criticism of Cork under Counihan is an inability to ‘put’ teams away, probably due to a lack of confidence – Saturday is hopefully a small sign that Cork will put teams to the sword more quickly in the year to come.
The central positive probably lies in the increasingly impressive form of our half-forward line. Fintan Goold had one of his best games in a Cork jersey, effectively dropping short for kick-outs and putting over a trio of points from play. Patrick Kelly entirely ran the game in the second half and is quickly becoming the playmaker at 11 that Cork have badly need for a few years now, offering structure and patience as we move forward. Pearse O’Neill had probably his quitest game of the league campaign but was nonetheless an effective option for kick-outs and grabbed a poacher’s goal sliding in on a Paudie Kissane pass. All in all the line offers a nice balance between power, skill and scoring ability.
Elsewhere, there was a lot of solid performances. Kissane moved forward well throughout which bodes well for him for another year at half-back; Alan O’Connor hit a little form, got on the ball a lot more then the last few league games and was part of a midfield that dominated with the introduction of Aidan Walsh; Walsh was his usual impervous self, was a major reason for Cork driving on in the last twenty minutes and also scored a beautiful curling point off his right foot. The full-forward line was excellent – Goulding was practically unmarkable in the first half, Sheehan worked as hard as always and tapped over a couple of points while Colm O’Neill showed his undeniable talent scoring a top-class goal towards the end. Noel O’Leary capped an impressive performance by keeping Marty Clarke under wraps for most of the game. Even better was the performances of some of the subs – Kiely showed well for the ball and drove forward at every opportuinity while David Goold got a clinical point after some nice movement.
There were only a couple of worrying aspects to the game. Nicolas Murphy offered little to nothing throughout, was far short of match fitness and could barely run when he was eventually called ashore. Denis O’Sullivan struggled badly with the movement and speed of the ever dangerous Mark Poland, but the odd mediocre performance is to be expected considering his inexperience. While the full-back line never really looked like conceeding a goal, they did struggle to deal with the movement and liveliness of the Down full-forward line who made excellent runs into space, particularly in the first half.
Regarding Down, they are, at the very least, an entertaining team that play the game the way its supposed to be played with lots of movement and accurate kick-passes. Poland and Laverty were excellent, particularly in the first half when they showed great movement and hunger to get on the ball and Clarke did ok when in possession, giving some nice passes (his point from play was arguably score of the game). Similarly their half-back line attacked well and even added a few points to the scoreboard. Nonetheless their full-forward struggled badly in dealing with the movement and hard running of Sheehan, Goulding and Kelly in particular. Defensively they generally seem to lack the cynicism of Cork or a Dublin, giving far too much space away to the opposition players despite keeping extra men behind the ball throughout. In terms of fitness it was clear the Down players were knackered with twenty minutes to go – in stark contrast most of the Cork players looked ready to go for another 30 minutes. Finally, their midfield collapsed with the introduction of Aidan Walsh while their short kick-out strategy was pretty ineffctive. A good side to watch then, but flawed in a number of ways. As for Cork, with a out of sorts Galway side on the way, another league final looks increasingly likely.