Down 1-17 Cork 3-12
The sheepish look on Conor Counihan’s face when Maurice Deegan called for the ball at Páirc Esler yesterday said it all.
Some games you win, some you lose, but this was an act of grand larceny.
Cork were outplayed for vast swathes of this encounter by a Down team which his counterpart, James McCartan, reckoned afterwards had played some of the best football of his four-year reign.
But luck was on the visitors’ side. All three of the Cork goals owed more to fortune and opportunism than any degree of tactical or technical nous, with two of the three-pointers falling on the stroke of the half and full-time whistles.
Neither county possessed a point after the opening two rounds and both were missing a handful of key performers: Daniel Goulding, Paddy Kelly, Dan Gordon, Ambrose Rogers and Danny Hughes among them.
Of those who did appear, two stood tallest.
Donal O’Hareis a first-cousin of Oisín McConville, but the corner-forward has started to make his own name this year with a handful of impressive outings, and none more so than this latest.
Michael Shields, Eoin Cadogan and Tomas Clancy all endured tormenting times on O’Hare at one point or another — indeed, Cadogan was detailed to him twice — but none was able to stem the flow of scores from the youngster’s boot.
He finished with nine points but the Burren clubman was on the bench for almost seven minutes with a slight injury by the time the game’s other dominant personality launched the move that determined the destination of the points.
Aidan Walsh had already given a standout display at midfieldwhen he stripped an unsuspecting opponent of possession and fed Fintan Goold with Cork down by two points in injury-time.
Goold’s shot was scuffed but it dribbled nicely towards the edge of the small square where Ciarán Sheehan swung at it first time with a finish that struck the top corner of the net and left the home side and support stunned.
After all, they had already absorbed two soft goals and rallied both times.
They were leading 0-5 to 0-3 after 18 minutes when a point attempt from Colm O’Neill fell short from where Paul Kerrigan collected and fed the onrushing Clancy who batted the ball into the net.
Worse followed for Down on the interval, when Donncha O’Connor’s ambitious effort dropped out goalkeeper Michael Cunningham’s hands and rebounded into the net off Brendan McArdle’s knees.
It was that type of day for a Down side that had appeared set to take the tunnel at the interval with a five-point lead, after Connaire Harrison had rifled a goal past Cork keeper Ken O’Halloran.
Harrison’s goal spoke volumes for the difficulties Cork were experiencing in that Conor Laverty had been afforded ample time to send in the ball and the recipient had got out in front of his man to claim the ball.
The defender in question on that occasion was Eoin O’Mahony, who didn’t reappear after the interval, but Shields and Cadogan were, arguably, in greater difficulties on O’Hare as well as the electric Benny Coulter who divided his time between full-forward and midfield.
Coulter’s ball-winning ability is well-known but he was matched in that department by O’Neill, who proved to be the focal point of Cork’s attack in the first 35 and was a key player as Counihan’s side took the game by the throat in the third quarter.
Two of his sublime frees from the vicinity of the right touchline helped kickstart a spell in which the away side outscored their hosts by six points to one and you suspected then that Down’s recent habit of trailing away in the second period was about to haunt them again.
That and their recent travails against Cork who, since the pair had met in the 2010 All-Ireland final, had played the Ulstermen four times in league and championship and emerged victorious on each occasion by an average of 11 points.
Instead, Down rebounded off the ropes one last time, landing the next five points which left them protecting a two-point buffer that was still in place until Walsh’s and Sheehan’s last intervention.
Scorers for Down: D O’Hare 0-9 (5fs), C Harrison 1-1, M Poland 0-2, R Mallon, A Carr, P McComiskey, C Laverty, K McKernan 0-1 each.
Scorers for Cork: A Walsh 0-5 (2fs, 1 45), C Sheehan 1-1, D O’Connor 0-3fs, T Clancy, E McArdle (Down) 1-0 each, C O’Neill 0-2fs, P Kerrigan 0-1.
DOWN: M Cunningham; D McCartan R Boyle, B McArdle; R Mallon, A Carr, P McComiskey; B Coulter, K McKernan; C Laverty, M Poland, K Quinn; D O’Hare, K King, C Harrison.
Subs: J Johnston for Quinn (48), E McCartan for King (56), S McArdle for O’Hare (65).
CORK: K O’Halloran; M Shields, E O’Mahony, N O’Leary; T Clancy, E Cadogan, J O’Sullivan; G Canty, A Walsh; F Goold, C Sheehan, P Kerrigan; C O‘Neill, D O’Connor, M Collins.
Subs: P Kissane for O’Mahony (35), B O’Driscoll for O’Connor (60), A O’Sullivan for Kerrigan (64).
Referee: M Deegan (Laois).
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