Cork’s third win on the bounce, and easily the most impressive of the lot.
Yesterday afternoon at a freezing, blustery, and sparsely populated Páirc Uí Chaoimh, Cork patiently disassembled a 14-man Down wall during a trying opening half of football, before coping manfully with the loss of Sean White to a second yellow card on 55 minutes, to move one step closer to promotion from the league’s third tier.
Management had already introduced their full complement of subs by the time Kevin Crowley trudged off with a shoulder injury on 69 minutes, meaning Cork had to survive the six minutes of injury-time with just 13 players on the field.
The visitors to Leeside finished much the stronger, kicking 1-2 without reply between the 64th and 66th minute, but such was the gap Cork had established during their brisk start to the second half that Down, despite their numerical advantage and the elements behind them, never came closer than four points.
Having taken the maximum six points on offer from the opening three rounds, the county’s best start to a league campaign since 2014, Cork, in the words of Ronan McCarthy, are now in “pole position” to make a swift return to Division 2. And while the manager was delighted with how composed his players had been when negotiating their way through Down’s packed defence in the first half, it’s what they did at the beginning of the second period which decided this Division 3 contest.
Such was the strength of the gale blowing from the City to the Blackrock End that the home side looked in a somewhat precarious position at half-time, leading only by 0-8 to 0-2.
Yes, they had rendered Down scoreless for 31 minutes of that opening half, while, at the other end, John O’Rourke, Brian Hartnett, and Ruairí Deane provided the finishing touches to well-worked moves. But six wides and a Ciaran Sheehan missed goal chance meant Cork’s dominance was not reflected in the interval scoreline.
The temporary scoreboard at the Blackrock End, mind you, soon came to accurately tell the story of this fixture. With Cork’s scoring threat in no way blunted by having to face the wind, and helped by Down’s half-time decision to withdraw their sweeper Kevin McKernan, the Division 3 table-toppers sped off into the distance in the 20 minutes after the resumption.
Cork registered six points during this period to move into a 0-14 to 0-5 lead, the pick of which was a booming Cathail O’Mahony effort from distance and Damien Gore’s sweet curling kick after fine approach play by Deane and Ian Maguire to create the opportunity. The latter contributed two white flags during this third-quarter burst, just reward for his trademark hard-running game.
This was an afternoon where the young, more so than the not so young, shone for Cork.
“Damien Gore had a tough day against Offaly, but much better today. He kicked one cracking score where he sold the dummy. Cathail, you saw flashes of the brilliant player he is going to be. He had one incredible score against the wind in the second half. He’s developed really well as the games have gone on,” said McCarthy of the fledgling corner-forward pair.
“That we were ahead at half-time was the big thing. Down were really going to have to come out and chase the game. Paradoxically, it was probably going to be easier for us to come out and play against the wind because there were going to be more openings. With the running we have in the team, and the energy in the way we get forward and support, playing against the wind is never going to be a burden for us. That’s the way it transpired.
“Our game-management is better now. That actually was a difficult task today. To do it in the manner we did is very pleasing because they are a very difficult team to play against.”
Taking a broader look at their league thus far, the Cork manager has few complaints.
“You say to yourself that if you took four or five from six, you’d be doing well, but to take six from six is great. And it has been done, apart from the first half against Offaly, where we have been comfortable in the games.
“We felt if we could win today, it would really put us in pole position for the remainder of the league. Having bigged up the game beforehand, I am not going to sit here afterwards and say it is not important. A crucial victory.”
Turning to his Down counterpart, Paddy Tally rued Down’s wastefulness late on.
“Once we scored the goal, we then dominated the rest of the match,” he said.
“We didn’t take the chances (Down kicked nine second-half wides) and they weren’t overly difficult. Some of the decision-making was poor, trying too hard to work another goal instead of taking the points. We had a numerical advantage too, so we’ve nobody to blame only ourselves.”
Scorers for Cork:
D Gore (0-3, 0-2 frees), C O’Mahony (0-3, 0-2 frees); I Maguire (0-2); T Clancy, T Corkery, L O’Donovan, B Hartnett, J O’Rourke, C Sheehan (0-1 free), L Connolly (0-1 free), R Deane (0-1 each).
Scorers for Down:
C Quinn (1-1); D O’Hagan, D O’Hare (0-1 free), O McCabe (0-2 each), P Devlin (0-1 each).
M Martin; S Powter, T Clancy, K Crowley; T Corkery, L O’Donovan, M Taylor; I Maguire, B Hartnett; R Deane, S White, J O’Rourke; D Gore, C Sheehan, C O’Mahony.
C O’Callaghan for Sheehan (50 mins); L Connolly for Deane (52); P Kerrigan for Gore (55); K O’Hanlon for O’Rourke (59); C Kiely for Powter (62).
R Burns; G Collins, P Murdock, R McAleenan; S Annett, D O’Hagan, J Flynn; C Poland, O McCabe; B O’Hagan, P Devlin, D Guinness; J Johnston, D O’Hare, K McKernan.
L Kerr for Annett, C Quinn for McKernan (both HT); S Dornan for Devlin (48); J Guinness for Collins (51); L Middleton for Poland (66).
B Tiernan (Dublin).