Monday 16 December 2019

Colm O'Rourke: Down demolition leaves Rebels well positioned to retain Sam

Cork's midfield power and pace too much for subdued Mournemen, writes Colm O'Rourke
Cork 2-20 Down 0-14

CORK remain the front-runners for the All-Ireland after their demolition job on Down yesterday. A 12-point margin tells you all you need to know about how this game panned out.

And demolition job is just what this was. Cork's power and pace in midfield just left Down with no answer. Alan O'Connor and Paddy Kelly were outstanding for the reigning champions, but I have to say I was disappointed at the token resistance offered by Down, especially given how close this team came to beating Cork in last year's All-Ireland final.

Once Cork got in front, the Down challenge wilted. They looked disinterested for most of the second half and long before the final whistle, most of the players had left Croke Park in mind, if not in body.

Still, you have to admire this Cork team. To score 2-20 in any championship game at this time of the year, no matter the opposition, is highly commendable. The first goal, by Donncha O'Connor, was the score of the year for me so far thanks to Daniel Goulding's sublime pass from under the Hogan Stand.

Conor Counihan has his worries though, and he'll know that his team remains vulnerable on any given day, especially with injuries mounting. Goulding looked to me to have shipped a bad ankle injury and even though O'Connor stepped up after he went off, I can't see Cork retaining their title without Goulding.

Poor old team doctor Con Murphy was run off his feet in the first half yesterday tending to injured players -- I think he'll have to get into training such is Cork's troubles with injury this year.

Kieran McGeeney's Kildare machine kept motoring with another clinical victory. No one will fancy meeting them now given the form they're in.

It was just as well, too, that Kildare were playing at headquarters yesterday evening or there might not have been anyone in the stadium.

This was a great win for Kildare. They played well and the honesty of effort and hard work that has become their trademark under McGeeney was evident in abundance. No line of the team personified this more than the half-forward trio of Pádraig O'Neill, Eoghan O'Flaherty and Eamonn Callaghan who must have covered every blade of grass on the pitch between them.

On the downside, they remain a very functional team. When they get in front by four or five points they appear to be content to sit back and not to expend too much energy in pouring forward in numbers, a trait they exhibit when a game is there to be won.

Also, they are going to need to create more goal chances if they want to stay in this championship.

Pity, too, that we had over-fussy reffing in both these games yesterday. It is so frustrating to still see games being held up as needless yellow cards are dished out.

Last year a provincial title was all there was for Roscommon, Meath, Tyrone and Kerry. Within a few weeks they were all out at the quarter-final stage. This time around only one side, Kerry, managed to hold on to their title while Dublin, Mayo and Donegal will hope they have a bit more road left in them than last year's champions.

When a young player dreams of playing for his county before a big crowd in a provincial final, he will always see blue skies and a dry ball.

To wake up last Sunday and look out at a day from hell must have tempered enthusiasm somewhat, but the weather and the referee are two of the uncontrollable factors in team sport and you must always try and make the best of whatever the day throws up.

Certainly there can be no complaints on effort from any of the players and no matter how devalued a provincial title has become in an All-Ireland context, it still gives a great sense of personal achievement, especially to those who have never won one. That applied particularly to Donegal, who had nobody with a medal, and they certainly played like it meant something big to each player.

With Donegal, style always is thrown in but there are not many in Donegal, especially players, complaining. Maybe it is better to look at what they have instead of the negative bits.

On an ongoing basis now they are showing a great hunger for the game, a willingness to sacrifice themselves for the team and plenty of attacking skill when they push up. Jimmy McGuinness deserves enormous credit for turning a team which was going nowhere last year into champions in 10 months.

They are unlikely to change their method of play and will present a very different but entirely formidable challenge for any county. Mayo may appear less structured defensively yet they had to present a very disciplined front to beat Roscommon.

Players like Tom Cunniffe, Keith Higgins and Trevor Mortimer were especially brave in the first half when they faced into the tempest and it was a big day for a lot of their young players who were winning their first medal.

That achievement should never be underestimated or downgraded, yet Mayo would be the provincial champions most qualifiers would like to play.

After that it would be Donegal, Dublin and Kerry. However, you should always be very careful what you wish for in football -- it has a habit of coming back to bite you.

Sunday Indo Sport

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Don't Miss