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Cork and Kildare march on as Limerick leave it late

THE Grim Reaper came to Croke Park yesterday and brought away the corpses of Derry and Down. He didn't hang around and leave us in suspense either; he made fast work of it.

But there was no shortage of late drama in Portlaoise, where Limerick came back from the dead to fire an equalising goal in the 70th minute and then break Wexford hearts with a disputed -- one umpire waved it wide --winning point in injury time.

The main event, the return of last year's finalists Cork and Down to combat, failed miserably to live up to expectation as the champions won with almost contemptuous ease, 2-20 to 0-14.

Down had stuttered through the qualifiers, admittedly, but last year they didn't set the back door on fire and still made a strong impression when they got to Croke Park. They have a reputation that has dazzled the generations back to their epochal arrival in 1960 as a force brimming with attitude and pioneering football. They had that last year and fell just short to Cork. Yesterday, they were miles off.

A seven-point sweep, unanswered, broke Down's resolve after the interval. By then they were already facing a mountainous task, trailing -- harshly, but inescapably -- by six. They went out in the second half full of running and purpose, but Cork were too dominant in the middle of the field. Down replaced their two starting midfielders and sent on the injury-plagued Ambrose Rodgers but by then their plight had become irretrievable.

Cork, beaten in the Munster final by Kerry, the only county to defeat them in the reign of Conor Counihan, produced some terrifyingly good football while Down's day rapidly began to descend into one of those which keeps getting worse. Marty Clarke was sent off on a second yellow card with 15 minutes left, but Down had already taken on a lifeless pallor.

A crowd of 31,072, on an afternoon blessed with sunshine and ideal conditions, had little to savour except Cork's mastery as they moved impressively into the quarter-finals. Donncha O'Connor set the standard with an impeccable performance, scoring 1-7 (1-3 from play). Down will have faced no sorer or abject journey back to the Mournes.

Ironically, the football in the first half hinted at a more satisfying contest, much of the play captivating and thrilling. Four points went over in the first three minutes, evenly divided. Down reproduced some of the magic we saw last season, but Cork, even after losing their free-taking expert Daniel Goulding to injury, found breathing space in a couple of first half goals.

The first will have Down kicking themselves. Goulding threaded the ball through to O'Connor and he was calmness personified as he picked a spot in the corner. It merely pricked Down into raising their game. Wearing an all-black strip due to the clash of the counties' primary colours, they buzzed all over this field.

Three successive Down scores had them back to within a point when O'Connor ended the sequence with one of his own and then Cork got the second goal. Fintan Goold finished beautifully and when Paul Kerrigan landed a massive point near the interval all the Cork forwards had scored. They were six points clear and it would only get better.

In the day's opening qualifier, Kildare were too strong for Derry, who had lost the Ulster final six days earlier. They led by three points at half-time and while Derry showed spirit in the opening half they were unable to sustain the challenge and their effort began to fade.

James Kavanagh was Kildare's leading marksman with four points from play, having been left out of the starting line-up in the previous round against Meath. John Doyle scored six frees and they moved into the quarter-finals with an unbeaten record in the qualifiers stretching back to 2007, prevailing 0-19 to 0-13.

Kieran McGeeney will know they still have work to do to emulate last year's semi-final appearance. Some of their shooting was wayward and only in the final 10 minutes were they able to shake off Derry's attentions.

Limerick's sensational win over Wexford saw them join Cork and Kildare in this evening's All-Ireland quarter-final draw. Ian Ryan pointed a controversial free in the 40th minute of the second half to give his side, who finished with 14 men, a dramatic 1-18 to 1-17 win.

But the umpires couldn't agree if it was a point or not and referee Derek Fahy had to confirm the score. Eoghan O'Connor had pulled Limerick back from the brink of defeat with a goal in the 70th minute.

The final last-eight place will be decided next weekend when Tyrone, who defeated neighbours Armagh in Omagh last night, meet Roscommon.

In hurling it is believed Waterford are going to start John Mullane at centre-forward against Galway in Thurles today as they seek to recover from a Munster final mauling from Tipperary. Liam Lawlor is expected to take over the troubled full-back position, with Brick Walsh restored to centre-back and Kevin Moran moving to midfield. Stephen Molumphy is being tipped for a corner forward role.

Sunday Indo Sport