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Stubborn refusal to wilt won it for Rebels

Cork landed their first senior football title in 20 seasons after an almighty battle with a Down team who will be wondering today where it all went wrong.

After a sluggish start, the Ulster team settled into the game and indeed dominated for long spells but in the end this Cork team simply refused to lose another All-Ireland final.

Today they travel home having achieved something that their fiercest rivals Kerry couldn't manage in their long and illustrious history -- having beaten Down in a final -- and that will give them a great sense of accomplishment and satisfaction as they enjoy this victory.

The players deserve great credit for sticking in there when the game looked to be drifting away from them towards the end of the opening half but, just like the semi-final win over Dublin, they dragged their way back into contention with some direct football and in the end the win was well merited.

The game itself was very exciting, apart from a 20-minute spell in the first half when Down totally outplayed their opponents and raced into a five point lead with about seven minutes to the break.

Cork were simply horrific and looked like a team that were over-trained and stuck to the ground.

All too often their build-up play was laborious and predictable and the two points they scored in the first 27 minutes from dead balls tell you all you need to know about that. Down, on the other hand, were full of energy and running and took the game to the Munster men.

Down teams playing in Croke Park have always played the game with a confidence and a swagger that possibly only Kerry also have and, despite a shaky opening, they quickly grew in stature and dominated the exchanges.

The Down forwards were giving their markers a torrid time but the Cork defenders were also making some very basic errors which must have had their manager jumping out of his seat in the Hogan stand.



Brilliant

Both Ray Carey and Paudie Kissane were caught in possession which resulted in Down scores and that would have had a very negative effect on confidence. But to their credit they managed to kick a few very important scores just before half time which made the score board look a lot better going in at the break.

Probably the most important score came from the boot of Donnacha O'Connor on 33 minutes. It was a difficult kick and another wide at that stage might have been very destructive but over it went and O'Connor went on to play a very important role in his team's brilliant fight back in the second period.

There were other factors of course which helped to turn the game in Cork's favour and the introduction of Nicholas Murphy at half time, Graham Canty five minutes into the second half and Colm O'Neill with 15 minutes to go helped the Rebels in no small measure.

All three made telling contributions when introduced, especially Canty and Murphy who brought certain stability to the spine of the team and both were instrumental in dragging the team back into the game and then pushing them into a winning position.

In that second half the Down forwards, who had enjoyed oceans of space in the first half, suddenly found main roads had become cul-de-sacs as the Cork defenders did their primary job which meant getting out in front and winning the ball and then delivering it long into the forward line.

That second half was very exciting and some of the football played was of the highest quality despite the slippery, greasy conditions.

Down added to their half-time lead with a neat score from Paul McComiskey early in the second half but Cork introduced Canty minutes later and that substitution coincided with Cork's purple patch.

Cork scored nine of the next 11 points to turn a four-point deficit into a three-point lead with some really outstanding football. Paul Kerrigan edged his team in front with 15 minutes to go after a typical solo run and great kick with his left foot and that score gave them the confidence to go on and win the game.

That score was quickly followed by two expertly taken 45s by Daniel Goulding which seemed to break the Down spirit but they didn't give up and that last 10 minutes must have been torture for both sets of supporters, management and, of course, players.

The score of the game from a Cork perspective came from O'Connor with just three minutes to go. After collecting an outstanding long kick pass from Paddy Kelly, he somehow kicked a point over his left shoulder from a seemingly impossible angle.

That kick put three between the teams again and looked to have put a safe distance between them, but Down kept plugging away with a Coulter point and another from substitute Ronan Murtagh, but Cork were not to be denied.

They are the history makers today and will be forever remembered as the team who ended Down's great record in All-Ireland finals. They have been up there with the best teams over the last four years and it would have been a shame if players like Canty, Murphy and Lynch finished their career without a medal.

That said, there is no reason why this present Cork team couldn't go on and win more All-Irelands, but that is for another day.

Down will be very disappointed today but they can take heart from this season and now look ready to make the next step and win their provincial title and get back to another All-Ireland final.

It was a terrific final to end what will be remembered as a great summer of football. Cork are worthy champions and will no doubt enjoy the coming months. It has been a long time coming.


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