Allianz Football League Division 1 – Cork 4-11 Down 0-10

Three-goal Kelly fires up Cork

Cork 4-11 Down 0-10

By Fintan O’Toole for the Irish Examiner newspaper

The margin separating the teams when they clashed in the 2010 All-Ireland final was wafer-thin but since then the chasm between the footballers of Cork and Down has increased substantially. Last March in the league Cork had 11 points to spare and last July in the championship Down were 12 points adrift. Those chastening defeats hurt them and the noises emanating from their camp last week spoke of an intent to bridge the gap, with plans to travel down on Saturday to improve their preparations.  But it failed to alter the recent pattern that has emerged between counties with 13 points separating them at the close of their latest meeting.

Cork strolled to victory with 2,762 spectators present to witness a league encounter where the sense of competitiveness had eroded long before the finish.  A flurry of goals in a 23-minute period that sandwiched the interval was at the core of Cork’s triumph. Patrick Kelly was the chief protagonist as he fired a brace before the break, displaying neat footwork to skip past the Down defence in the 26th minute. He planted the ball past Brendan McVeigh again two minutes later after Pearse O’Neill made a timely interception.

Donncha O’Connor maintained his high standards from the penalty spot on the stroke of half-time, striking with customary assurance after Mark Collins was felled. By the 49th minute the Ballydesmond man’s perseverance in keeping the ball in play was rewarded when Kelly side-footed home to complete his hat-trick. “Yeah it’s the first one in my career,” revealed Kelly. “I rarely even get goal chances, let alone score goals. It’s probably something that’ll never happen for me again to get three so I’ll enjoy it.”

Raising the green flag with frequency is something that has eluded Cork during Counihan’s reign as evidenced by the total of four goals they mustered during their march to the All-Ireland title in 2010. Their strike rate here heartened Counihan yet the size of their winning margin surprised him, judging his response to the query as to whether he was expecting a sterner challenge.  “Oh Jesus, absolutely. Down were coming down here having beaten Donegal last week so we said it’d be tough. The game fell our way with the break of the ball and the goals and that sort of thing, it’s very hard to come back from that.  “I don’t think that was a true reflection of Down, it’s difficult playing away when you’ve a full team but when you’re understrength it’s harder. When you concede three goals in the first half, it’s very difficult to get a team to lift themselves.”

Counihan’s point about Down having personnel deficiencies was salient. Their defence continues to be a cause for concern and Dan McCartan was the only starting member of their rearguard to have featured in the 2010 All-Ireland decider. Kevin McKernan and Conor Garvey were whipped off the bench yet they could not stem the tide. Down availed of Cork’s sluggish opening to lead 0-3 to 0-0 after 11 minutes courtesy of Aidan Carr points but that bright outlook quickly evaporated.

Cork battened down the hatches, Pearse O’Neill and Alan O’Connor provided a physical edge at midfield while they displayed a ruthless streak up front. Mark Collins and Barry O’Driscoll had productive afternoons in attack as they continue to adjust to life at senior level while Donncha O’Connor was in exemplary form at full-forward. They outscored Down by 3-5 to 0-2 in the closing 25 minutes of the first half.  Down attempted to salvage the game but could not make inroads into Cork’s lead. Dan Gordon registered their solitary second-half point from play in the 40th minute and with Brendan Coulter, Mark Poland and Danny Hughes held scoreless, it was a frustrating afternoon.  Cork’s disappointment in Armagh last Sunday clearly fuelled their motivation to succeed here. The focus that Counihan demands during the league continues to be met by his players as this was their 13th win out of 14 home league games during his tenure.

For Down there is three weeks to iron out the kinks in their play ahead of another tussle with a Munster side when they face Kerry.  “It wasn’t the result or the performance we were looking for,” admitted selector Aidan O’Rourke.  “Ten minutes into the game we were reasonably happy, but the goals were criminal. We went through the McKenna Cup without conceding a goal, but that changed last week against Donegal and today we conceded six goal opportunities and let in four.”

Scorers for Cork: P Kelly 3-0, D O’Connor 1-4 (1-0 pen, 3fs), B O’Driscoll 0-2, M Shields, F Goold, M Collins, A O’Connor, P O’Neill 0-1 each.

Scorers for Down: A Carr 0-5 (0-4f), L Doyle 0-2fs, A Brannigan, D Gordon, C Laverty 0-1 each.

Subs for Cork: P Kerrigan for Lynch (25), E Cotter for Cadogan (half-time), S Kiely for O’Leary (53), N Murphy for A O’Connor (65), L Shorten for Goold (65).

Subs for Down: C Garvey for D McCartan (32), C Maginn for Poland (half-time), K McKernan for G McCartan (42), A McArdle for Turley (42), B McArdle for Costello (53).

Referee: Rory Hickey (Clare)