We’ll deal with Down first as the outlook for Eamonn Burns’ side, with one eye on the summer, is worryingly bleak and, also, because unlike Cork, the Mournemen have nothing but pride to play for in next weekend’s final round of games.
Without a win in their opening five games, Down travelled to Páirc Uí Rinn knowing nothing other than maximum points would suffice in their fight for survival.
And despite opening brightly — 0-3 to 0-0 they led 21 minutes in — their defensive approach, allied to their body language in front of goal, hinting as it did at a team desperately low on confidence, all pointed towards a game-plan built on frustrating rather than outclassing their opponents.
Beyond the 21st minute, the visitors would add to their tally only a further four times. Conal McGovern was the sole member of Down’s starting front six to hit the target from play, while only two of their scores did not arrive from the placed ball. Their scoring droughts, moreover, ranged from 13 to 22 minutes.
The net result is that Down will spend next spring in Division 2.
For Cork, well, everything is a bit up in the air heading to Tralee next Sunday. Relegation still isn’t off the table. Neither is a place in the semi-finals, mind you.
With Monaghan and Mayo both on four points, two less than Cork, a draw for Peadar Healy’s side against Kerry would guarantee their safety at the top table.
Victory, on the other hand, could squeeze the Rebels into a third successive league semi.
The performance, though, will have to be much improved on what was produced here.
Cork did not raise a flag of any description until Colm O’Neill converted a ’45 on 22 minutes. Never mind the lack of zip in their play, the collective attitude wasn’t what it should have been in the opening quarter. Perhaps, the players thought they would walk over Down as nearly every other team has this spring.
For early on, there was a strong sense of Cork waiting for it to happen as opposed to making it happen.
Luke Connolly, who again turned in another busy performance, kicked their second from the dead ball and it was all square when Mark Collins fisted over having been put through by Kevin O’Driscoll.
Collins could have had two goals to his name by this juncture; his low drive on 12 minutes was well kept out by ‘keeper Michael Cunningham, while he was off-target with his second chance on 18 minutes. A turnover by Cork as Down sought to break into the opposition half on the stroke of half-time ended with a Colm O’Neill free, 0-4 to 0-3 they now led.
The intensity of the home outfit’s play rose a fair few notches upon the change of ends and such were Down’s struggles in front of goal that two apiece from Paul Kerrigan and Luke Connolly within seven minutes of the restart had the final result wrapped up by the 42nd minute. Eight points was hardly an insurmountable target to chase, but the visiting forwards were having little luck in breaking down a defence well marshalled by Brian O’Driscoll.
Mark Poland teed up McGovern for their first score of the second-half on 43 minutes; a chance, if had been kept low, could have had the umpire reaching for the green flag.
A second goal opening fell their way on 53 minutes, Donal O’Hare’s drive superbly touched onto the post by the right hand of ‘keeper Ryan Price. Referee Sean Hurson called back play for a free which O’Hare stroked over to leave the scoreboard reading 0-9 to 0-5.
Colm O’Neill’s third free and two more from Collins rubberstamped back-to-back wins for Healy’s side.
And while the performance wasn’t of the same vintage as in the win over Monaghan, encouragement will be drawn from their steady climb up the Division 1 table, and their steady climb towards consistency.
C O’Neill (0-4, 0-3 frees, 0-1 ’45); L Connolly (0-3, 0-1 free), M Collins (0-3 each); P Kerrigan (0-2).
D O’Hare, (0-3, 0-3 frees); M Cunningham (0-1 free), C McGovern, D O’Hanlon (0-1 free), M Poland (0-1 each).
R Price; K Crowley, J O’Sullivan, E Cadogan; K O’Driscoll, B O’Driscoll, D Hazel; I Maguire, S Kiely; M Collins, L Connolly, C O’Driscoll; C O’Neill, P Kelleher, P Kerrigan.
R Deane for Kiely, B Hurley for Kelleher (both 45), D Mac Eoin for Connolly (61), D Goulding for O’Neill (63), A O’Sullivan for Maguire (66).
M Cunningham; D O’Hagan, G McGovern, G Collins; J Flynn, A Carr, D O’Hanlon; P Turley, H Brown; J Murphy, C Maginn, C McGovern; K McKernan, D O’Hare, B O’Hagan.
R Mallon for Murphy (33 mins, bc), D McKibin for Flynn (HT), M Poland for Maginn (41), P Devlin for O’Hagan (48), S Dornan for O’Hare (64).
S Hurson (Tyrone).