By Kieran Rooney
HALF an hour into last Sunday's All-Ireland Football Championship decider at Croke Park, and you had to be seriously concerned for Cork. Behind 0-7 to 0-2, the prospect of a third All-Ireland final defeat in four years was staring them in the face.
Worryingly, they hadn't managed to score from play. Of even more concern was the way the young Down team was tearing holes in their defence to set up a five point advantage.
Yet, somehow Cork turned things around, just, to secure a 0-16 to 0-15 victory. An outstanding second half comeback saw them grab their first All-Ireland victory in 20 years and their seventh in all.
It was one of the better finals with Down coming close to snatching a draw in a hugely exciting finish. No one would have begrudged them had they done so, but, at the same time, the overall view was that Cork just about deserved their success.
Down manager James McCartan admitted as much. In complete contrast to some well known-soccer managers, McCartan was thoughful, well mannered and, most importantly, honest after the match.
"Maybe on the balance of the two halves, a draw would have been fair enough. But, certainly on the second half, Cork were deserving winners." McCartan admitted.
"We have no qualms about that at all. I have to play tribute to Cork. They have obviously felt the pain we are feeling now and come back from it to reach the Holy Grail."
Quite right. Against a lesser team, or, should I say, a less determined team, Down may well have gone on to make it six out of six victories in their All-Ireland final appearances.
But they were up against an outfit that had experienced too much disappointment in the past. They just weren't going to disappear. All season, they had been getting by without quite performing at their best, now was the occasion to really step up to the plate.
Crucially, there was no sense of panic. As some of their players later pointed out, they had been setting up chances in the opening quarter, without taking them.
Ciaran Sheehan's near miss in the opening minute when put clean though was a perfect example. Not only did Down goalkeeper Brendan McVeigh save his shot but he then saw a second punched effort cleared on the line by Daniel McCartan.
There were also some very bad misses. Down, in complete contrast, were showing how to take your scores with Danny Hughes, responsible for two of the points, always in the thick of the action.
Their movements were great. Everyone knew Benny Coulter, Marty Clarke and Hughes were the business, but on the evidence of the opening 30 minutes, this was a Down team full of quality players.
Yet, there remained one nagging problem. Cork were winning most of the possession. That statistic alone meant they were going to get more chances, the question was would they ever get around to taking them.
Eventually, in a crucial five minute period before half-time, they did. Two points from Donncha O'Connor and another by Daniel Goulding, their first from play, meant that Cork were only behind 0-8 to 0-5 at the break.
Skipper Graham Canty's injury and lack of match practice meant that he had to start on the bench. Naturally, he was very keen to see how the lads reacted in the dressingroom at the interval.
"Things were pretty calm," recalled Canty. "Frank Cogan, the team masseur, usually takes charge and he is a very clam man. That transfers to the players.
"There is no point in panicking. A lot of the team have played in All-Ireland finals and lost them. It probably counts for a lot."
Absolutely it does. Cork were a changed team in second half. Importantly, they were able to bring Nicholas Murphy off the bench, along with Canty who brought some much needed composure.
The key to their victory remained in midfield. Cork's strength in depth was demonstrated by the fact that they used five different players because of injuries without ever losing control of that area.
The 20-year-old Walsh was magnificent. Now supported by Murphy, the chances continued to come, the big difference being that Cork were were at last showing what they are capable of in attack.
No one was better than Goulding. The free-taker, Donncha O'Connor, Ciaran Sheehan and Paul Kerrigan scored nine points between them as Cork turned the game on its head.
At 0-14 to 0-11 with ten minutes to go, Cork looked to have it in the bag but Down were never going to lie down. Points from Hughes and Coulter left them just a one adrift going into injury time.
Time, however, ran out and Cork held on for that overdue All-Ireland success. While there are those who, no doubt, will argue that it would have been more satisfying if they had beaten Kerry along the way, nothing should be taken away from Cork.
They showed a lot of character and skill to recover from such a bad start. They have paid their dues and deserve huge credit for eventually coming good.
Another factor is that Down proved difficult and top class opponents. This was a Down team in the best traditions of the county, playing fast open football, with one of the best players in the country in Benny Coulter.
That Cork managed to restrict him to just a point says a lot for them. Manager Conor Counihan, a man who took a lot of criticism throughout the campaign, also deserves a lot of credit.
"Look, people have been critical of us throughout the year." admitted Counihan. "Maybe we have deserved some of it but we have remained positive.
"Of course, there was a sense of relief. It's fantastic for the lads, each and every one of them.
"Positivity is the key for us. If you surround yourself with positive people, you will get positive results."
Tyrone minors take title
CORK came up just short in their bid to complete a double when they were pipped 1-13 to 1-12 in the All-Ireland Minor Football final.
The produced a remarkable comeback after being eight points (1-12 to 0-7 adrift) adrift at one stage in the second half. But in the end they had left themselves with too much to do.
Favorites Tyrone set up their victory with a tremendous start which saw them establish a 1-5 to 0-0 lead. At this stage, Tyrone look far too strong but a late scoring blitz which saw Kevin Hallissey grab a goal threw the final widie open.
Credit though to Tyrone for withstanding the late challenge and securing their second Minor success in three years and their eighth in all.
Girls bow out of World Cup
After a tremendous tournament, the Irish girls Under 17 World Cup soccer challenge came to an end when they were beaten 2-1 by Japan in Trinidad.
As disappointing as it was to lose out so narrowly, coach Noel King was delighted with the way his team had performed. After losing 2-1 to Brazil in their opening game, they beat Canada 1-0 and Ghana 3-0 to qualify for the last eight.