A GOAL by Colm O’Driscoll two minutes into injury time gave Cork a dramatic victory over Down in a tumultuous Cadbury All-Ireland U-21 football final at Portlaoise yesterday.
It was only the second meeting of the counties in the final but it will resonate for many years to come. Thirty years ago Down, with a team that included Liam Austin, James McCartan and Greg Blaney emerged victorious over a Cork team that included Jimmy Kerrigan and current senior selector Jim Nolan.
It looked as if the cup was heading to the Mourne County for only the second time when Paul Fitzpatrick edged Down two points clear with only two minutes of normal time remaining.
However Cork refused to yield and in as an enthralling last four minutes as you could wish to witness, the Munster champions rocked Down with O’Driscoll’s match winning goal to put themselves top of the roll of honour with 11 All-Ireland titles.
Jubilant Cork coach John Cleary readily agreed that his side’s name was on the cup following their great escape in the Munster final against Tipperary and the All-Ireland semi against Dublin.
“We played very well today and I honestly feel we got our just reward. We went into this final minus a couple of players but those that came in did a magnificent job. To be perfectly honest we rode our luck in this championship but you have to have a bit of it to win.
“We’re All-Ireland champions now no matter what way you look at it and that is what we set out to achieve at the start of the campaign. I’m absolutely thrilled for everyone involved.”
They looked to have this final won after storming into an 0-7 to 0-3 lead coming up to half time; fell behind to two the second half down goals, but showed tremendous character to hang on when all seemed lost and then to strike for match winning goal with no time left for the Ulster champions to come back.
There were many heroes on this Cork team. Thrown in at the deep end for his first game in the championship, full back Liam Jennings played himself to a standstill before being substituted. Aidan Walsh was majestic at centre back and it was from his pile driver which the Down ‘keeper spilled out to Colm O’Driscoll that the winning goal came from.
Midfielders Chris O’Donovan and Kevin O’Driscoll did very well particularly in the first half, while up front Mark Collins, Paul Honohan, David Goold, team captain Colm O’Neill and Colm O’Driscoll who covered every inch of the ground, gave the Down defence a torrid time.
The Mourne side drew first blood after just 40 seconds when Paul Devlin pointed a 13-metre free. Cork who won the toss and opted to play into the wind, took a firm grip on the game following that score, but faulty shooting cost them at least three points before Ciaran Sheehan eventually found the target to the game after seen minutes.
Cork were superb going forward with David Goold and Mark Collins particularly impressive up front, and the Macroom youngster showed his class with a brace of points to ease his side in front.
Down were hardly out of their own half in that period as the aerial dominance of Chris O’Donovan and Kevin O’Driscoll pinned them back, keeping the pressure on their defence which struggled to cope with the incessant pressure. In typical northern style Down got all but two of their attackers back behind the ball when Cork had possession and were left to struggle up front as a result.
However a gradual improvement around midfield where Peter Fitzpatrick began to win more possession, helped to ease the pressure on his own defence and as Cork began to struggle, their backs were forced into committing the fouls which Paul Devlin and Paul McComiskey converted.
Devlin’s point was Down’s first for 13 minutes play but it sparked off a sustained period of pressure on the Cork defence which yielded further scores by Devlin and McComiskey and for all their territorial advantage, the Munster champions could only manage an 0-8 to 0-5 half time lead.
Cork’s cause wasn’t helped by the loss of Ciaran Sheehan with a knee injury minutes into the second half, and with Down far more authoritative than they were in the opening moiety, they had the deficit down to the minimum by the three-quarter stage despite having to work very hard for their scores.
The pace of the game was superb and the excitement and tension was unbearable as the Ulster champions swarmed all over Cork and they were rewarded with an Eamon Toner goal after the Munster champions defence fumbled Paul Fitzpatrick’s long delivery.
Down were rampant and Cork, badly in need of a score to settle the nerves, got it from Colm O’Neill who landed a superb point which tied the game for the second time.
It was only a temporary respite however as Down, with Paul Fitzpatrick now the dominant figure at midfield and Paul McComiskey giving his market the run around up front, hit back for a second goal.
It came following an excellent passing movement which put wing back Timmy Hanna and he found the net despite the best efforts of Cork ‘keeper Anthony Seymour to keep the shot out, and when the magnificent Paul Fitzpatrick tacked on a point to put this side two in front, Down saw the finishing line.
Not for the first time this year Cork found themselves in dire trouble as this superb contest went into injury time and they needed a goal to win it.
A Down move was broken up by Cork centre back Aidan Walsh who took off on a solo run which brought him to within 20 metres of the Down goal.
Walsh’s powerful kick was parried by the Down ‘keeper Gavin Joyce who didn’t have a save to make all afternoon, and Colm O’Driscoll following up, drilled the football to the roof of the net to give Cork as dramatic a victory as one could wish to see.
Scorers for Cork: D Goold, 0-5 (3f); C O’Neill, 0-4 (1f); Colm O’Driscoll, 1-0; M Collins, 0-2; C Sheehan (f), J Fitzpatrick, 0-1 each.
Scorers for Down: O McComiskey 0-4 (3f); P Devlin 0-3 (3f); E Toner, T Hanna 1-0 each; P Fitzpatrick 0-2.
CORK: A Seymour; S McLoughlin, L Jennings, N Galvin; Conor O’Driscoll, A Walsh, B Daly; C O’Donovan, K O’Driscoll; C Sheehan, M Collins, Colm O’Driscoll; C O’Neill, D Goold, P Honohan.
Subs: J Fitzpatrick for Sheehan, 31; B Lombard for Jennings, 48; L McLoughlin for K O’Driscoll, B O’Driscoll for Honohan, both 59.
DOWN: G Joyce; M Digney, C Murney, D Turley; T Hanna, J Fitzpatrick, J Murphy; M Magee, P Fitzpatrick; E Toner, C Maginn, J O’Reilly; P Devlin, P McComiskey, C Poland.
Sub: N Higgins for Dignery (45).
Referee: C Reilly (Meath).
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