Monday, September 20, 2010

Cork Ascend into Glory

Story of the game - O'Leary shuts down ClarkeCork 0-16
Down 0-15

After so many years of bitter disappointment, Cork ascended into glory when they won their seventh All-Ireland football title with a win over gallant Down in a wet Croke Park yesterday.

Down travelled under the weight of expectation drawn from the five teams before them who had never lost an All-Ireland final. Cork’s weight of expectation was even higher; had they fallen on Sunday, how could this generation have ever risen again?

For the first half-hour of the 2010 All-Ireland final it looked as though the day could only end in more rebel tears. Erratic shooting into the Hill saw Cork squander their early advantage in possession, while the Down forwards foraged for scraps and made the most of whatever came their way.

And then, the five minutes that changed the game as Cork laced over three quick points before the whistle to cut Down’s lead to three by half-time, 0-8 to 0-5. After struggling so hard to score in the first half it was like had Cork clicked into that higher gear that they’ve found so hard to find since losing to Kerry last year.

For Down, the writing was appearing on the wall, and it didn’t spell good news. They hadn’t made the most of their dominance, and Cork looked like they had found their form after a year’s search from Malin Head all the way back to their own Bantry Bay.

In the second half, the sands finally trickled out for Down. Martin Clarke, Down’s master of puppets, became less and less influential as the game wore on, shepherded by Cork’s imperious and talismanic Noel O’Leary.

The program tells us that O’Leary is a tree surgeon by profession – An Spailpín likes to think that O’Leary eschews the chainsaw to pull oak and cedar up by the roots with his bare, and think nothing of it. Yesterday, O’Leary took his instruction from the Book of Ruth, deciding that wither Martin Clarke goeth, Noel O’Leary doth also go.

But O’Leary was just one part, if a very important part, of what was the ultimate team triumph. This was the fundamental difference in the teams – Down could not live with Cork in terms of depth of talent. Look at the players who rose from the Cork bench – Graham Canty. Nicolas Murphy. Derek Kavanagh. Veterans of many campaigns, who were not going to let another summer end in disappointment.

It is to Down’s eternal credit that they still hung on as the waves of Cork pressure battered them, and a case could be made that Down were unlucky not to snatch a draw at the death. But for Cork to be denied would have been unjust and they well deserve their seventh All-Ireland football title.

FOCAL SCOIR: Croke Park is really going to have to look at its interval entertainment. Drumming is not music. Thirty seconds is bearable, in its context; Twenty minutes is criminal.