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Rusty Rebels still too strong for Mourne men

ANYONE who witnessed Cork's underwhelming victory over Dublin last Sunday (and this non-plussed reporter was there in the 'Páirc' to see it) may be slightly surprised to read that the Rebels are such clear-cut favourites to win tomorrow's semi-final in Croker.

Here, though, are three reasons to explain those 3/10 odds: (1) Cork 3-17 Down 0-15 (2011 NFL); (2) Cork 2-20 Down 0-14 (2011 SFC qualifier); and (3) Cork 4-11 Down 0-10 (2012 NFL).

That's three meetings and a combined winning margin of 36 points. For whatever reason, ever since Down lost to Cork by a single point in the 2010 All-Ireland final, they have found it impossible to get even remotely close.

Tackling their concession rate to the Rebels (three goals on average) would be an obvious starting point if manager James McCartan wants to make this a meaningful contest.

In that context, they aren't helped by the loss of full-back Dan Gordon, who broke a bone in his foot during last Sunday's clinical seven-point win away to Laois.

As an erstwhile midfielder, Gordon would certainly have the physique to make life difficult for Cork's converted full-forward, Aidan Walsh. The latter's decisive goal against the Dubs may have carried a modicum of good fortune, but it still stemmed from his formidable aerial threat.

Cork were at their best during the opening 20 minutes last Sunday, when playing it fast and direct into their inside trio of Walsh, Colm O'Neill and Donncha O'Connor.

Facing the breeze in the second half, albeit against a more organised Dublin rearguard, their build-up was painfully ponderous at times.

And yet, for all their inconsistency from game to game and even during matches this spring, Cork are back where you expect to find them -- challenging for a league title.

Manager Conor Counihan makes three changes, recalling the experienced trio of 'keeper Alan Quirke and defenders Noel O'Leary and Paudie Kissane, whereas Down are without hamstrung former All Star Danny Hughes as well as Gordon.

This time, the Leesiders may have to settle for a single-digit victory.

ODDS: Cork 3/10, Draw 9/1, Down 10/3