Collins the driving force as Cork make up for previous heartache
Cork 1-13 Down 0-9
Caitríona Collins proved the match-winner with a superb haul of 1-6 as Cork put the agony of two consecutive defeats at the last hurdle behind them to become Liberty Insurance All-Ireland intermediate camogie champions at Croke Park.
The Rebels - who were also grateful for four points from play from minor star Saoirse McCarthy - had to stave off a wonderful effort by Down, who had Niamh Mallon and Saoirse Sands in fine form.
But once Collins found the net in the 40th minute to put six points between the teams, it was an uphill struggle for Martina Rooney's crew.
Their cause wasn't helped by the sending-off of Sara-Louise Carr 10 minutes later. The reason for the Clonduff attacker's second yellow card wasn't obvious from the stands, or to the player herself, who was distraught.
Down started the game with skipper Fionnuala Carr at full-forward, which was surprising given that the tactic had failed in the semi-final and that their comeback that day had been propelled by Carr's relocation to centre-back.
She was unable to influence proceedings from the edge of the square on this occasion, and Down missed her commanding presence in the middle of the half-back line.
They began very confidently, however, points from Sara-Louise Carr and Sands getting them on their way. McCarthy - who along with Laura Hayes and Cliona Healy was winning her second All-Ireland medal in a few months having enjoyed U18 glory - got a chance to show her pace and the subsequent player of the match had the teams level in the blink of an eye with a wonderful brace.
Down enjoyed their best period at this juncture and moved three points clear, with two from Mallon, who was also involved in the move for Paula Gribben's score. Mallon's point off her left from 60 metres, in particular, was a thing of beauty.
They didn't score for the entire second quarter, however, and Cork went in at half-time leading by 0-7 to 0-5, Collins slotting three points to bring the teams level before Caroline Surge and McCarthy also hit the target.
Mallon and Sands quickly restored parity within five minutes of the restart but it was all Cork from there, Paudie Murray's crew leading by three when Collins fired to the net.
It was a fantastic finish at the end of a move that had its genesis in a stunning fetch from the clouds by Siobhán Hutchinson. Finola Neville took the ball forward and drew the cover before timing her pass to perfection, leaving Collins to do the rest.
For Neville, the win was well overdue. "The hunger was there. We knew coming back each year, we were there or thereabouts. We were unlucky over the last few years but we knew we had the players.
"There's a huge workrate and a huge bond, as Sarah Harrington said in her speech. We're best friends. When we got knocked down, we were coming back to get that title."
SCORERS - Cork: C Collins 1-6 (0-4fs); S McCarthy 0-4; C Sugrue 0-2; C Healy 0-1(f). Down: N Mallon 0-4(2fs); S Sands 0-2; P Gribben 0-1, S L Carr, F Carr (f) 0-1 each.
CORK - A Lee, N Ní Chaoimh, S Harrington, J Barry, S Hutchinson, L Weste, L Callanan, S Buckley, K Hickey, L Hayes, F Neville, S McCarthy, C Collins, M McCarthy, C Sugrue: Sub: C Healy for McCarthy (39), R O'Callaghan for Sugrue (60), R Killeen for Callanan (60+2).
DOWN - M McNally, N Kelly, A Savage, C McGilligan, B Savage, D Magee, C Rocks, P Gribben, D Savage, S L Carr, N Mallon, A McAleenan, S Sands, F Carr, O Caldwell. Subs: O Gribben for Magee blood (14-28), Gribben for Caldwell (29), C Cowan for McGilligan (52).
REFEREE - J Dermody (Westmeath).