Cork Qualify for League Final
Allianz Football League Semi-Final
Cork 2-17 Down 1-12
Report via gaa.ie
Reigning champions Cork qualified for a third successive Allianz Football League Division I final following a comprehensive defeat of Down at Croke Park on Sunday.
The Rebels will play Mayo in the final on April 29 in a repeat of the 2010 decider, which Cork won comfortably, after beating the Mourne men for the fifth successive time in the last two years.
A repeat of the 2010 All-Ireland final, this game was competitive until Alan O'Connor struck for Cork's second goal on 57 minutes, profiting from a mistake by Down goalkeeper Brendan McVeigh.
Cork's Colm O'Neill was the stand-out player on show, the Ballyclough man proving he is back to his very best after missing last year through injury, scoring 1-6, including a fine goal on 43 minutes. Daniel Goulding's return to action for the first time since he damaged an ankle in the Round 4 Qualifier defeat of Down last August was another major plus for Cork manager Conor Counihan.
Down were 0-3 to 0-1 ahead inside the first six minutes, with Benny Coulter scoring twice to add to a Conor Laverty effort after Cork had taken an early lead through Pearse O'Neill.
Cork persevered with the tactic of pumping long ball into the full-forward line - something that has served them well in the league so far - with Colm O'Neill and Aidan Walsh providing superb targets. Colm O'Neill had a fine first half, scoring five points in total, including his first after seven minutes, which Pearse O'Neill soon added to, as the Rebels drew level at 0-3 apiece eight minutes in.
Down were less direct in their approach, but it was no less effective, with Mark Poland causing trouble for Michael Shields, scoring two fine points from play, bringing the Mourne men to parity once again on 15 minutes, 0-5 each.
Colm O'Neill was on top of his game, though, and he hit three of the next four points as Cork moved 0-8 to 0-6 ahead. Down full-back Brendan McArdle, who found himself deep in the Cork half tracking Aidan Walsh, then hit an exquisite point with the outside of his left foot to leave a point between the sides, before Paul Kerrigan had the final say of the half with his second score, leaving the Rebels 0-9 to 0-7 ahead at the break.
Colm O'Neill and Conor Maginn traded scores on the restart, before Benny Coulter spurned a great goal chance, blasting over after he had been left win far too much space behind the Cork defence. Although Aidan Carr cracked over a beauty to leave just a point between the sides, it was a miss Down would come to regret, as Cork made their big push for home soon after.
Colm O'Neill has a habit of scoring goals against Down, and he did it once again on 43 minutes. A slack pass out of defence was intercepted by Paul Kerrigan, who found centre-forward Paddy Kelly in space, and a quick offload found the onrushing O'Neill, whose low finish had Brendan McVeigh well beaten. Pearse O'Neill added his third point from play soon after and Cork suddenly had a six-point lead, 1-13 to 0-10.
If Cork thought they were already in the final, then they were given a sharp reminder that they were still in a game when Down were awarded a penalty after Jamie O'Sullivan handled the ball on the ground in clearing Kalum King's shot, which appeared to trickling over the line. Aidan Carr beat Alan Quirke from the penalty spot.
Cork's progress had been checked, but certainly not halted. Noel O'Leary galloped up the field and struck an inspirational point, before the champions sealed their passage to a fourth successive Allianz League final - they won the Division II final in 2008 - when Alan O'Connor struck a rare goal in the 61st minute. A long ball into the Cork square was dropped by the Down goalkeeper McVeigh and Alan O'Connor drove the ball into the empty net.
The wind had been well and truly taken out of Down's sails and the final 10 minutes was a pedestrian affair, with Cork hitting a succession of wides before they added gloss to the scoreline with late scores from Colm O'Neill and Goulding.
Cork Scorers: Colm O'Neill 1-6 (0-2f), A O'Connor 1-0, P Kerrigan 0-3, P O'Neill 0-3, B O'Driscoll 0-1, D Goulding 0-1, N O'Leary 0-1, D O'Connor 0-1, A Walsh 0-1.
Down Scorers: A Carr 1-2 (1-0 pen, 0-1f), B Coulter 0-3, C Laverty 0-3, M Poland 0-1, P Turley 0-1, B McArdle 0-1, A McConville 0-1 (0-1f).
Cork: Alan Quirke; Ray Carey, Michael Shields, Eoin Cotter; Noel O'Leary, Eoin Cadogan, Paudie Kissane; Alan O'Connor, Pearse O'Neill; Fintan Goold, Pa Kelly, Paul Kerrigan, Colm O'Neill, Aaidan Walsh, Donncha O'Connor. Subs: Jamie O'Sullivan for Cotter (HT), Barry O'Driscoll for Walsh (HT), Denis O'Sullivan for Cadogan (46), Mark Collins for Goold (56), Daniel Goulding for D O'Connor (65).
Down: B McVeigh; D McCartan, B McArdle, D Turley; K McKernan, N McParland, C Garvey; A Rogers, K King; P Turley, M Poland, A Carr; A McConville, C Laverty, B Coulter. Subs: C Maginn for Laverty (35), N Branagan for D McCartan (47), A Branagan for D Turley (47), D O'Hare for McConville (54), K Quinn for P Turley (61),
Referee: Michael Duffy (Sligo)
Pic: Cork's Aidan Walsh in action. Courtesy Sportsfile