NY GAA: Senior Football final preview: Down v Cork


Wasn't it Emily Dickenson or James Joyce that said, “Summer turns to fall and young men dream of romance, love” … and winning the New York county title!

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.

Denis McCarthy and Paddy Harrington and tight marking corners, with McCarthy back to his best after some earlier injuries this season.