Hundreds of home supporters in the 2,983 Páirc Esler crowd had left before Down substitutes added a couple of additional time points to give the scoreboard some respectability. But little could take away from the manner of the visitors’ victory as they firmly put their opening day defeat to Tipperary behind them.
Cork should have been much more than 0-7 to 0-6 up at the interval and Ronan McCarthy knew it. Largely through Mark Collins and Seán White, they had galloped into a four-point lead by the 14th minute before they conceded a series of makeable frees.
“Same as last week, we should have been further ahead,” said McCarthy, “and we said to the players at half-time that it had been something we identified from the league game last year that we had conceded a number of scoreable frees.
“We were disappointed that they had six points at half-time and five of them were frees. We had identified it and it was disappointing that it wasn’t implemented. But that said, we played very positive football.”
Both teams dropped three shots short in the opening half but, as McCarthy pointed out, Cork were by far the more expansive, scoring four points from play to Down’s one. The way in which they reduced Down’s inside forwards, Connaire Harrison and Donal O’Hare, to relatively silent roles was a source of pride for McCarthy.
Down did equalise from play early in the second half as the initiative swung in their favour but they could not build on it and, with 1-3 in eight minutes, Cork had them beaten.
“Despite the fact they had two men back in front of their full-back line we were still able to open them,” said McCarthy.
“We were patient and we opened them up at the right times with support play and runners and so on. In the second half, in the period when they were on top, we were never in trouble defensively at any point and there were some magnificent performances in our backline.
“In the Tipp game last week and in the McGrath Cup (final) against Clare and maybe previously in recent years, when teams were getting on top we were conceding big scores. The big difference today was that didn’t happen and we got a foothold in the game again and tacked on a couple of scores and won it comfortably.”
Funnily enough, Down manager Eamon Burns felt it was Cork who were the more defensive (although Cork were committing more numbers to their attacks). “At times, they deployed two sweepers and they had obviously looked at the performance from the week previously and went to town on it and got their defence closed up.
“We found it difficult to get balls into the inside line, which then obviously limited the number of scores we could get. I think with two sweepers it was very difficult to break down and we weren’t coming with enough pace out of defence to open it up either.”
Collins’ 56th-minute goal came as a result of him intercepting Shane Harrison’s poor kickout after a Colm O’Neill free had pushed Cork into a two-point lead. Collins darted forward and looped the ball over a despairing Harrison.
Burns knew the score was worth more to Cork than three points. “I think it knocked the stuffing out of everybody, even in the stand. It gave them a five-point gap then and you were struggling to see how we were going to claw a five-point deficit back and that’s the way it panned out in the end.”
Two further O’Neill frees followed, as well as a Peter Kelleher effort, and Cork could enjoy the closing stages having made the most of their dominance.
“We would have been disappointed that of the two or three times we went ahead against Tipp we never added to it when the game was in our grasp and could have gone six points ahead a couple of times,” said McCarthy.
“We were trying to make the point that when you’re on top let’s try and drive it home and get scores and it made the difference.”
Apart from Cillian O’Hanlon having to be helped off, there was Jamie O’Sullivan’s dismissal which mixed a little sour with the sweet taste of the victory. As Kevin McKernan sent over a score in additional time, O’Sullivan and Connaire Harrison clashed, the Cork full-back shown a second yellow and Harrison brandished with a red.
Walking off, O’Sullivan appeared to feel hard done by. “I didn’t see it,” said McCarthy. “I wasn’t even aware he was on a yellow. I think the Down guy got a straight red for striking and the linesman called it. I spoke to him very briefly and he called it that it was rough play for Jamie and the Down guy struck out. We just have to accept it.”
A. Doherty (0-3, frees); C. O’Hanlon (0-2, frees); C. Harrison, S. Millar, C. Mooney, R. Johnston, K. McKernan (0-1 each).
M. Collins (1-5, 0-2 frees); C. O’Neill (0-5, 3 frees, 1 45); S. White (0-2); P. Kelleher (0-1).
S. Harrison; B. McArdle, C. Flanagan, D. O’Hagan; N. McParland (c); C. Mooney, A. Doherty, D. O’Hanlon; C. Poland, N. Donnelly; S. Millar, C. Maginn, A. Morgan; C. Harrison, D. O’Hare.
B. O’Hagan for D. O’Hare, K. McKernan for C. Maginn (both 51); R. Johnston for S. Millar, D. McKibbin for A. Doherty (both 56).
M. White; S. Ryan, J. O’Sullivan; M. McSweeney; K. Flahive, B. O’Driscoll, T. Clancy; I. Maguire, C. O’Hanlon; S. White, K. Crowley, R. Deane; J. O’Rourke, C. O’Neill, M. Collins.
M. Hurley for J. O’Rourke (45); C. Dorman for B. O’Driscoll (51); P. Kelleher for C. O’Hanlon (inj 60); M. Taylor for S. White (64); C. Dorgan for K. Flahive (68); S. Sherlock for C. O’Neill (69).
F. Kelly (Longford).