Eugene McGee: Rebels lose their inhibitions at last
Published 20/09/2010 | 05:00
Learning the hard way was brought to an art form yesterday. Cork, after half a dozen years of torturous failure in the closing stages of the All-Ireland championship, came out with all guns blazing at exactly the right time -- in the second half of the game -- to blast Down apart and snatch the Sam Maguire Cup.
At times in the first half, especially when they were behind by 0-7 to 0-2, it looked as if all the hang-ups, all the frustration and all the criticism of recent seasons was going to be added to, but in the second half Cork players at long last threw away their inhibitions, let the ball rip and outscored Down by 11 points to seven.
The dramatic nature of the final 10 minutes, when Down scored four points, ensured a very exciting finish for the fans but also gave Cork the chance to prove that they are no longer quitters. As against Dublin in the semi-final, it was Cork who delivered the knockout punches when the game had to be won and lost, something which added greatly to their status and makes them the worthiest of All-Ireland champions.
And these players, most of whom had been beaten in two All-Ireland finals, were entitled to explode with joy at the end because had they lost the game they would have gone down as the greatest chokers in the history of Gaelic football. Instead they can gain comfort from a hard-earned victory and look forward to more success now that the negative baggage has been wiped away.
There was no mystery as to why Cork won: they totally dominated the midfield contest and once their forwards got into action after half an hour of sheer idleness in the first half, it was inevitable they would outscore Down. The latter's propensity to foul unnecessarily cost them dearly, gifting Cork six points from frees while a shaky Down defence also conceded three '45s' which were scored.
Faced with midfield starvation, Down's plans soon began to fall by the wayside and in particular the influence of Marty Clarke was slashed through lack of possession and also because Noel O'Leary played Clarke better than any defender this year. In that situation Down were not going to find winning as easy as in recent games.
Down depended on old-style man-to-man marking to thwart the Cork forwards and it seemed to be working very well when, with half an hour gone, Cork had only two pointed frees from Daniel Goulding to show on the board -- a really disastrous start.
The exception to this attacking mediocrity at that point was full-forward Donncha O'Connor, who destroyed Down full-back Dan Gordon, particularly when the Cork attack began to let long balls in. A barrage of scores, five points in 11 minutes after the break, brought them level by the 47th minute and Cork were a transformed team from the first-half strugglers.
The reason again is very simple. In the first half, Cork's forwards were acting like fancy dans, only getting the ball when it was put on a plate for them and making so-called tackles that wouldn't burst a paper bag. No wonder the Down backs looked unbeatable at that stage.
But when the ball began to be moved quickly into the danger area after the arrival of Graham Canty and Nicholas Murphy, this game changed completely and the rest is history.
After all the talk, Conor Counihan and the selectors DID get it right by holding Canty until he was really needed and he showed his greatness immediately by his mere presence on the field.
But Goulding probably made the biggest contribution to this victory with excellent free-taking under pressure and, above all, by kicking three '45s', a truly remarkable achievement under the circumstances.
The several midfielders used by Cork to good effect meant that Down, apart from the opening quarter, never made the sort of impact on the possession stakes as they had in previous games. And that was their undoing.
But when the disappointment of a one-point final defeat dissipates, Down and James McCartan can look back on a great season. Their future looks bright even though they will need a few extra defenders of high quality to go all the way. As always, there are obvious regrets such as Clarke's missed '45' on 29 minutes and Paul McComiskey's shot hitting the upright and rebounding back into play in the 37th minute.
The game was very entertaining all through, even if not of the highest quality, and once again, as with the two semi-finals, we had a dramatic final 10 minutes.
Nobody will deny Cork their tight victory after all the recent failures and who knows what success will be founded on this great result for Cork.
MICHEáL SETS THE STANDARD
BY this stage, there is not much to be written by me that has not already been said about Micheál ó Muircheartaigh, who finished his GAA commentary career yesterday.
Yet when gamesmanship and gimmickry of all sorts has infested various sports, including the GAA, I believe one of the greatest attributes of this great man has been his total impartiality during his commentaries.
At a time when partisan reporting and commentating are very common in sport, Micheál has never deviated from being totally lacking in bias in favour of any county.
This applied particularly when commentating on his native Kerry, which he probably did more often than with any other county. But never was there a hint of bias, pro-Kerry or anti any other county. This was a remarkable achievement and the many broadcasters who have attempted to replicate the man on national and local radio stations could learn a lesson in that regard from him.
But setting very high standards, trí Béarla nó Gaeilge, has been Micheál's trademark always.
There are thousands and thousands of sad GAA people today, but I doubt if we have heard the last of him yet!