Rebels on a Downers

September 14, 2010

Before a ball was kicked in this year’s championship Cork were being touted all over the country as the team to beat. The Rebels were expected to go one step better than last year’s final defeat to arch rivals Kerry. Cork have duly arrived on the big stage as predicted but not in the manner or way, from a footballing point of view, which was expected. The early loss of their Munster crown, following a replay to Kerry, seemed to knock their confidence as they struggled to produce to near their capabilities but yet are only 70 minutes away from their first title since their back to back successes of 1989 and 1990.

While Cork might have been all the rage to be contenders, very few, outside of die hard Down supporters, could have envisiged Sunday’s duo meeting in the final battle for Sam. Newly installed Down manager James McCartan had inherited a talented squad who had underachieved over the last few years. A good league run earned promotion from Division Two but a final defeat at the hands of Armagh did not bode well as a championship visit to Ballybofey against Donegal loomed. Down found that little bit extra to beat Donegal 1-15 to 2-10 after extra -time. Defending All-Ireland champions Tyrone were next up and despite a terrific performance Down were beaten 0-14 to 0-10 and condemned to the back door route to dig out more championship action. It was a case of pot luck in who, when, what, where the qualifier route would take you.

The march to the final for Down began on July 10 at home to Longford and a 1-14 to 1-10 sparked a glorious July which yielded further wins over Offaly away 1-12 to 1-10 and a really sit up and take notice 3-20 to 0-10 demolition of Sligo at Kingspan Breffni Park and Down were in the All-Ireland quarter final. Low and behold after skipping through the qualifiers the biggest test of all appeared in the shape of the defending All-Ireland champions and current Munster champions Kerry. The overwhelming viewpoint from pundits was that the men from the Macgillicuddy Reeks would sweep the men from the Mountains of Mourne right down to the sea as the green and gold would register a first ever championship victory over the Red and Black.

Some traditions in Gaelic remain in tact as Down demolished the champions with a polished performance as eight different scorers got on the sheet in a 1-16 to 1-10 win. The odds defied, Down were into the last four and a game away from their first All-Ireland appearance since their 1-12 to 0-13 win over Dublin back in 1994.

James McCartan renewed acquaintances with Kieran McGeeney and Aidan O’Rourke who were in the semi-final opposition camp provided by Kildare as manager and assistant. Down survived a late scare in a thrilling encounter against the Lilywhites to secure a final berth 1-16 to 1-14.

The fact that Down have always proven to be a different breed of animal when playing at GAA Headquarters will not be lost on Cork’s preperations. The Munster outfit will not want to have a third All-Ireland final defeat in four years added to their C.V. having lost to Kerry in 2007 and 2009.

Down and Cork have crossed championship paths on one occassion which was in the semi-final of 1994. On that occassion, which could be repeated on Sunday, the Down full forward line of Mickey Linden (0-1) Aidan Farrell (1-2) Gary Mason (0-6) destroyed the Leesiders by contributing 1-9 in a 1-13 to 0-11 victory.