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Champions Cork reaffirm their consistency under Counihan

IT'S four from four for Cork against Down since the one-point deficit in the 2010 All-Ireland final, with yesterday's 2-17 to 1-12 NFL semi-final victory the latest in the winning streak.

The Rebels have won those four games since their All-Ireland win by a cumulative total of 44 points.

This win guarantees a third successive Division One league final appearance, a feat last achieved by Dublin from 1987 to 1989 when they won the first against Kerry and lost the next two to Meath and Cork themselves.

Under every full year of Conor Counihan's management - he took over during the 2008 league - they have reached a league final now, dating back to the 2009 Division Two decider against Monaghan.

No team since Kerry (1971-74) have won three consecutive Division 1 league finals, so it's a measure of Cork's consistency that they now find themselves in the position of doing so.

With the backdrop of virtually an empty stadium, the cavernous feel of Croke Park clearly had an impact on the intensity of this semi-final.

The official attendance was 11,342 and by the second half, the majority were on their way home. It lacked any intensity and Counihan acknowledged afterwards that it was "a bit dead".

Referee Michael Duffy showed just two yellow cards and awarded only 30 frees, well below the average for games of this nature.

Cork have had their most erratic league campaign under Counihan yet, but it has picked up in the last three games and there were positive signs for much of this game as Pearse O'Neill, Paul Kerrigan, Paddy Kelly and Colm O'Neill took turns at exploiting the space left by a benign Down defence.

Down boss James McCartan made the point afterwards that his team can't really afford to be without key players and Danny Hughes and Dan Gordon were significant losses.

Disrespectful

"I don't want to be disrespectful to any members of our panel, but Cork's 15 to 30 would be a lot more experienced than our 15 to 30," said McCartan.

"For us to be successful we would need every shoulder to the wheel and when a couple of players are missing out of our team it's a bigger miss than it would be out of Cork's," he said.

Yet he felt they were much closer than the final scoreline reflected.

"It seems that human error was a big factor and played a big part in our own downfall," added McCartan.

The human error he referred to came in the form of Brendan McVeigh's fumble of Denis O'Sullivan's speculative delivery into the Down goalmouth on 60 minutes, which presented Alan O'Connor with the easiest of goal chances.

That made it 2-15 to 1-12 and ripped the heart out of any potential Down comeback in the last 10 minutes.

At the other end, Colm O'Neill continued his recovery from cruciate ligament trouble with arguably his most impressive league display yet, scoring 1-6.

McCartan cherished the fact that his team were still in Division One despite this defeat.

He said: "It's a funny league. If we had been beaten by three points by Laois, we would have been relegated so we got into the top four. It's a strange set-up. As I said before six weeks ago, we were allegedly the worst team in the division, then three weeks ago Mayo took over that. But any time you stay in Division One you're happy."


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