Another year over and we are Down to two. Who will un-Cork (pardon the puns) the champagne this Sunday in the 125th anniversary year of the GAA in Ireland and the 95th year of football in the Big Apple?
Eighteen clubs have won the title in New York’s history, but Cork have not been at the top table since 1955 when they annexed their fourth, (‘16, ‘18 and ‘35 were the others), while Down have yet to take home the championship.
Down are returning to the final for the second year in a row while Cork have not got to this point since 1972. Kerry presently holds the cup, with both of Sundays contestants more than capable of following in their footsteps.
After a full season of football that included a KO 13 a side competition to open the year before 41 group games and playoffs, we are down to two. Both sides had interesting years to get to this point, with almost identical records of seven wins and two losses, while Cork have a draw from their contest with Tyrone in the semifinal.
Cork started strong before they hit a road bump that included three losses in 14 days in July to Tyrone, Leitrim and a resounding loss to this week’s opponent. They got back on track afterwards in the one game they played in August, a win over Four Provinces, and then had little trouble over nemesis Kerry in the last group game and the quarterfinal.
Their two outings with Tyrone were night and day. Lucky to steal a draw in the first, they had a resounding victory last Sunday.
Down also started tout with three wins before a pair of losses to Tyrone, a close contest, and Leitrim set them back. They recovered with a 1-21 to 1-9 win over Cork, the most complete game any of the six playoff teams had against the other playoff teams in the group games. A clinical win.
Back on track and after a win over Cavan, they had an inexplicable let down against Kerry in the last group game. They survived, however, and again beat Cavan in the quarterfinal, a game that was far closer than they would have liked before they saw off Leitrim relatively easily in the semifinal.
It all leads us to Sunday and two sides that are coming off brilliant semifinal showings after coming in as the three and four seeds in the playoffs.
Looking at the two sides, they both have very valid reasons for feeling confident. Down are returning to the final after a one-point loss to Kerry last season. A game that they well could have won, it will help them immensely this week.
Mark Kelly is the long time custodian for the side, and his overall play and uncanny ability to save penalties gives his side a lot of confidence. The full back line should have Brian Murray at two, with Dermot Hayes, Gary Cornyn and Richard Dalton also possible in the first line.
Cornyn is playing very well and could go at wing -back or in the corner. A tenacious marker, this is his third final on the trot. (Leitrim in ‘07).
James Mitchell sits at six if fit, with Shaun Munnelly, Sean Kelly and Barry Annett all challenging for places. Brendan McGourty, who won a hurling medal with Offaly, just might get another shot at full back if Dalton is not available.
Munnelly has started at 10 this season but invariably sits in as a sweeper for his side. Capable of playing in any position from four to 15, his versatility is a drawback with the county side in that he would be better suited to be left in one slot. However, at club level he is well able to man any of those positions.
Garth O’Neill is a rock in the middle of the field, and his runs forward are a thrill to watch. The side’s strength is its forward line, and it is here that the game may well be won or lost. If they can score against a tough tackling Cork side the game is there for them.
Robbie Moran should be on the 40 if not in midfield, and his transfer to Down this season was a huge addition for the side. Michael Sloan is a tremendous ball carrier and free taker, while Mark Dobbins has started to show form of old in the last three games.
Michael O’Rourke, if he is in the corner, and a very dangerous forward with the jewel of the crown Pakie Downey given the 13 shirt all over the full forward line. He will be isolated close to the square, but he may get Alan Rafferty as a marker on Sunday. Rafferty is on pace for player of the year honors, and Downey will not have met a player of this caliber this season.
Lots of talent in the package then, and they will certainly want to leave behind the heart-wrenching loss to Kerry by creating history this year.
What then of Cork? Well, they too have a good keeper, the best in New York in fact in Evan Byrne. Kick outs are long or short wherever needed, and his ball handling and shot stopping are second to none.
Midfield will see two of the following three -- Rory Stafford, Sean Lordon and Colin Daly. Staff plays very big, and last Sunday he kept the ball out of the Tyrone hands by breaking or catching. Look for more of the same.
Lordon leads with his desire. A former Cork minor, his heart is a huge positive. Daly is off the Dublin panel and may be on the 40 or in the middle. An excellent ball carrier well capable of firing over the bar or steam rolling to goal.
The forward line has a number of players who come off county teams -- Rory Woods with Monaghan, Ciaran Lyng with Wexford, Francie Cleary with London. Joe O’Neill is a goal scoring corner man, and he ghosts in behind the full back line.
Woods looks to be happier on the 40, while Lyng will be very difficult to contain although he does have a tendency to drift out of a game if the ball is not coming his way.
J.P. Boyle kicks the frees from the left, while Lyng takes the ones from the right, Boyle played for New York in an earlier tour and should be around the panel for the Galway contest in a week’s time. A terrific striker of a dead ball, distance is not a problem.
Cleary is being used off the bench and should be injury free after a trip to the hospital after the semifinal. He is a fantastic ball carrier who sets up his inside forwards. Nicky Dineen will also have a shot at a starting slot, with Pat Mahoney very likely to come off the bench at some point in the final.
Both sides have very valid reasons to be confident heading into the game. Always a betting man to the very end, the bank is at 215 after Roscommon won last week but did not cover the three points, as Cork got the victory and made up the loss with a five spot to spare.
Both sides could explode for scores at any minute based on their attacking formations. Will the defenses be able to stay with them?
Cork have the better man markers with the Downey/Rafferty, McCarthy/O’Rourke and Hoare/Sloan battles pivotal. Down at the other end will set up Mitchell on Woods, Cornyn/Dineen, Dalton or McGrory/Boyle in an attempt to get the win.
We will not shy away from this year’s tradition in the final week, and have 20 tickets saying the forwards will win, taking over on 25 points scored.
Who will win? It will come down to the wire, with the men from the banks of their own lovely Lee going all the way. Twenty further tics say they will.
On a side note, no betting involved, Cork 1-15 Down 0-14. It promises to be a thrilling ride.
Views from the final camps
Down manager Ciaran Fearon
Thoughts on final day? It’s our second in a row and we have had enormous success in the last four years. When I started with Down with got one point in two seasons at Junior A. We couldn’t win a game at all. This will be our fifth final in four years. While it is brilliant, we need to win it now.
How do you view Cork? They have a very good team. While we beat them before by 11 points we know that Cork will be favorites after their win on Sunday. It will be who turns up on the day and who wants it most. A lot of teams would love to be in our shoes with a chance to play for a county title.
How has your team grown? Robbie Moran helped to change the team and has been a huge addition. A tremendous player. James Mitchell has also had a huge influence on the side. Our sanctions have helped to pave the way to the final. It’s true that sanctions help to win. We did, however, have a large home base on the field for the semifinal.
Turning points of the season? We had a couple of stumbling blocks in the middle that we got over. Certainly the quarterfinal was a far tougher game than the semi and it showed us a lot. We will have know illusions about Sunday however.
Cork selector Liam Bermingham
Thoughts on final day? No one in the club now has been involved in a final before apart from the Kielys. It is 54 years since we won it and 37 since a final. We are thrilled to be there, but there is one game left to be played.
Thoughts on Down? They gave us a good beating last time out, and they are a very good side when they hit form. A good footballing side that is strong going forward.
How has your team grown? We had a difficult three game period with Leitrim, Tyrone and Down. All quality opposition with our sanctions still needing to gel. We had a playoff slot from the first three wins so we were not too alarmed.
Players who helped get to this point? It is very unfair to single out players, but Alan Rafferty, Denis McCarthy, Sean Lordon, Rory Stafford to name a few have all played leading roles. We had 26 togged against Tyrone so it is hard to pick one player. It is a team effort.
Cork are the public favorites. A hard read to see looking at the Down win over us earlier in the year. Certainly the championship as a whole has been very competitive, with Tyrone and Leitrim having very impressive teams. On a final day anything can happen.
Cork 2-11 Tyrone 1-8
CORK is back in the county final for the first time since 1972 after a dominating win over Tyrone. They burst into an early lead before going in at the half up by six and were able to handle a spirited Tyrone comeback in the second half.
A dominating defense held their rivals to 0-3 in the first 30 minutes, and goals each side of the break gave Pat Scanlon’s side a safety net they never had to use. They will start the final as favorites against Down as they look for their first title since 1955.
Cork began on fire with three points in the first eight minutes. Ciaran Lyng was showing Irish form as he had both a free and a point from play. The third score was a majestic point from Colin Daly deep on the right wing.
Midfield to this point was being won by Cork, and they were dictating the flow of the game. Rory Stafford was breaking the ball down to active lines in both directions.
Tyrone finally broke their duck when they had a free when Murtagh did not seem to be touched, but he sent it over. They had a second point when Conor Downey shot brilliantly from the left corner, but it was immediately cancelled out and then some.
A Cork move out of the back started with a Denis McCarthy interception. Some fancy footwork by Lyng and Woods that would look perfect at Old Trafford was followed by even better soccer play by J.P. Boyle when he dribbled through and slotted to the net at the end of the play.
Two further points by Lyng and a sublime free by Boyle in the corner in front of the dressingrooms moved the lead out to 1-5 to 0-2. The Cork side gave up another point to a Murtagh free after 24 minutes, but immediately sauntered down the field and had a cancellation score by Rory Woods.
Cork continued their domination of the middle, with the half back of Hoare, Crimmins and Cotter completely dominant. They were making everything Tyrone tried to do difficult and energy consuming while they were moving the ball effectively in all corners of the field. With the half time break arriving they were sitting on a six-point advantage.
Tyrone started the second half as Cork had the first. They had three points in the first seven minutes, although the third came from a sideline that was taken from the 14 even though it went t out on the five. It was a brilliant strike however.
Tyrone continued to attack, and but for clearances by Denis McCarthy and Alan Rafferty the damage could have been far worse.
Cork started to get back into the game as the influence of Daly and Crimmins again started to have effect. They started to move the ball forward, and but for the absence of players in the full forward line as the Cork men were behind the ball they could have had a few scores.
They finally broke through after 15 minutes when a long ball by Crimmins slipped through the hands of a Tyrone defender and fell to Lyng who headed for goal. His brilliant soccer shot was expertly turned away by John McGinley, but Joe O’Neill was following and he slid the rebound to the net.
Tyrone did come back at their opponents, but they had a hill to climb. Three points from Downey and Murtagh got them within two goals.
They them had a major break when a long ball from Eamonn Lyons bounced around the large parallelogram before Aiden Power grabbed it and shot low to the net.
They were within earshot, but the loss of Paul Mulherne to a straight red when he brought Francie Cleary to the ground put them at a huge disadvantage.
Cork reacted in championship style. With four minutes left on the clock Pat Mahoney, who had arrived off the bench for the injured Daly, set up Boyle for a huge point.
On the resumption the defense with McCarthy and Rafferty prominent shut down a Tyrone attack, and the ball was worked forward to Lyng who slotted over for a five-point lead. Within a minute the same two players had two further points and the victory was secure.
The final grace coup de gras was when Tyrone was awarded a dubious penalty to say the least in the last 30 seconds. The kick was skied, however, by Murtagh and it sailed over the top.
Cork had many heroes on their historic day. Evan Byrne kept his defense tight and could not be faulted on the goal as a forest of bodies was in the way. Alan Rafferty completely nullified Murtagh to the point that the full forward went far out the field in search of ball.
Denis McCarthy was back to his best with a tigerish outing. David Crimmins was man of the match as he constantly broke up plays and stormed forward with ball in hand.
Jack Hoare was another in an excellent half back line who dominated. Rory Stafford got a hand to all the kickouts in the first half and never allowed Reilly or Lyons to get clean possession.
Rory Woods had his best performance to date, and he looks better suited to the half line where the action is. J.P. Boyle had a quite day and still notched 1-3, while Colin Daly before his injury did a huge amount of work.
Ciaran Lyng had a few balls that inexplicably went through his hands, but still turned up with 0-5 while his shot created the second goal and his excellent flick set up the first.
Tyrone had a brilliant regular season, but will be devastated with the early ending. John McGinley, in his last performance in Gaelic Park, did nothing wrong, and his save on Lyng before the goal was superb. We wish him well in San Francisco where he is headed.
While the side tried to help the forward line by putting Aiden Power up there at the start, hindsight will say that he should have been left where he had a very good year at wing back. He did return there in the second half, but the game was gone at that point.
The midfield got going far too late and their influence was minimal. Up front Conor Downey was the best and most active. John Murtagh had his quietest game of the year, and Eamonn Lyons had patches when sent to full forward.
Tyrone: 1 John McGinley, 2 Joe Bell, 3 Gerard McCullough, 4 Sean Coyle, 5 Paul Mulhern, 6 Steve Keating, 7 Seamus Skeffington, 8 Gary Reilly, 9 Eamonn Lyons, 10 Darren Doherty, 11 Conor McNabb, 12 Aiden Power (1-0), 13 Conor Downey (0-2), 14 John Murtagh (0-6), 15 Packie McMullen. Subs: Darren Petit, Conor Skeffington, Cathal Skeffington.
Cork: 1 Evan Byrne, 2 Denis McCarthy, 3 Alan Rafferty, 4 Paddy Harrington, 5 David Crimmins, 6 Kevin Cotter, 7 Jack Hoare, 8 Sean Lordon, 9 Rory Stafford, 10 Nicky Dineen, 11 Rory Woods (0-1), 12 Colin Daly (0-2), 13 Ciaran Lyng (0-5), 14 J.P. Boyle (1-3), 15 Joe O’Neill (1-0). Subs: John Fitzpatrick, Pat Mahoney, Liam Hanley.
Man of the match: David Crimmins (Cork). Active, battling, strong going forward, brilliant display.
County Final predictions
Donie O’Sullivan (Cork): Former senior football chair and long time footballer, mentor and officer. “Cork, they have a good enough team this year, they have too many weapons.”
Richie Annett (Down): Former New York player, mentor with Down nephews on panel. “Really looking forward to our second final in a row. We have the talent this year and will take the title.”
Larry McCarthy, New York chairman: Cork native. “No predictions from me, but I am looking forward to a tremendous game and wish both sides the best next Sunday. It promises to be a great day for the New York GAA.”
John Riordan (Kerry): Former New York chair and long time officer and mentor. “Cork are peaking at the right time, but I feel the Down forwards are better which will help them get the win.”
Sonny Kenna (Roscommon): Former New York player, referee and mentor. “Cork. They have the stronger team and have more talented footballers.”
John McGinley (Galway): Tyrone and Offaly and former New York goalkeeper. “Cork by five points. They are fitter and have a deeper panel which will be very important.”
John Kelly (Galway): Former New York hurling chairman, New York officer, Galway player/mentor/manager. “Cork 1-10 to 0-11. Better all-round team.”
Denis Twomey (Rangers): Manager of winning junior side 2009, selector New York under-21, New York officer. “Cork, by three points.”
Bernie Aherne (Cork): Former New York player, member of glorious 1969 side. “Cork. A faster team with a deeper bench.”
Frankie Dwyer (Leitrim): Former Leitrim player, manager, mentor, New York business owner. “Cork. Stronger team, quality players but it promises to be a great final. A very exciting year in football.”