ALL-IRELAND medals are hard won and this is especially true for these Cork players who yesterday tasted victory after many disappointments.
They scored five points in the first half but improved dramatically to post 11 on the restart for what was a very deserved win after a gripping final.
There are a few reasons for the second half improvement:
1) Conor Counihan had a nice hand to play but he played it well, most importantly with the introduction of Nicholas Murphy at half-time. Within a minute of his introduction Nicholas received a yellow card for a heavy tackle on Peter Fitzpatrick in what was the first instant of legitimate aggression by a Cork player. Cork were way behind in the aggression stakes in the first half. The Carrigaline man then caught two kickouts quickly after that. Likewise, the introductions of Graham Canty, Colm O’Neill, Derek Kavanagh was an injection of muscle, experience and quality. The switch of Eoin Cadogan onto the previously rampant Paul McComaskey was also important.
2) Cork correctly changed their tactics coming into the game and straight from the start kicked longer into the full-forward line. It didn’t pay dividends immediately with the Down backs on top but they got two great points just before half-time from Daniel Goulding and Donncha O’Connor from good ball played into the inside line. I’m sure Counihan would have referenced that approach at half-time and encouraged more of that in the second-half. Ten minutes into the second-half the same pair got points from play within a minute of each other courtesy of lovely through balls from Ciarán Sheehan.
3) The Cork free-taking has been criticised this year but credit to Donncha O’Connor and Daniel Goulding. Both landed some pressure kicks throughout the afternoon. You don’t win All-Irelands without reliable free-takers.
4) Cork were poor in the first-half but were well in touch when trailing by three points at half-time. They new that if they could raise their game victory would be theirs. And raise it they did. Cork showed a great will-to-win in the second-half best exemplified by the body language of Murphy who was well-up for action. They got themselves back into the game with a couple of frees and really threw off the shackles in the second-half. And once they drew level they began to play the style of football we all knew they were capable of. There were a few other reasons for the victory. Cork won the kickouts 16-7 in the first-half and 15-7 in the second-half with Aidan Walsh giving as good a display of high-fielding as has been seen in an All-Ireland final in a long time. It is amazing to think he is U21 again next year. Michael Shields did very well on Benny Coulter, restricting him to a point from play, and Noel O’Leary held Marty Clarke scoreless from play. Alan Quirke and his defence did not give up a single goal chance to a dangerous Down attack and have only conceded three goals in this campaign.
The Down players now carry the tag of being the first team from the county to lose an All-Ireland SFC final but they have nothing to apologise for. They lost by a point to a hungry team on a mission. At the moment they are a better first-half team than second-half team. They had great performances from their lesser known players like Declan Rooney, Peter Fitzpatrick, Mark Poland and Paul McComaskey. Martin Clarke would be a massive loss to them if he returns to Australia next season as some have suggested. Three very good provincial finals, three very good quarter-finals, two cracking semi-finals and a fitting final to a brilliant football season.
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