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Down don't have what it takes to topple struggling Rebels

Eamonn Burns take his Down team to Cork on Sunday but, with relegation almost a foregone conclusion, his focus will be on fine-tuning his team for the Ulster Championship meeting with Monaghan
Neil Loughran

Allianz National Football League Division One: Cork v Down
(Sunday, 2pm, Pairc Ui Rinn)

IN TERMS of Division One survival, Sunday’s meeting of Cork and Down at Pairc Ui Rinn means much more to the Rebels than it does to the Mourne men.

With four points from five games, Peadar Healy’s men still have a chance of forcing their way into a Division One semi-final, but their first concern will be ensuring they stay away from relegation trouble. Victory on Sunday would go some way to easing those concerns, especially if Roscommon can inflict more pain on their struggling Connacht rivals Mayo.

Although mathematically they can still avoid the drop to Division Two, Down’s goose is cooked - and has been for some time. The sequence of events required to realise that longest of long shots would be of such Houdini-esque proportions that even the most optimistic Down supporter would struggle to build a case in their favour.

Forcing a 36-point swing on the score difference-ometer for a team that has managed just one goal and 37 points from five games – an average of eight points per game - is too big an ask.

Winning even one of their two final games, never mind both, would be a positive way to conclude an otherwise forgettable campaign. Cork and Mayo - both desperately in need of points, both playing on home soil - provide the opposition.

Games against Sunday’s opponents Cork have not exactly been a happy hunting ground for the Mourne men since the turn of the decade. Six meetings, including an All-Ireland final in 2010, six defeats. The Rebels’ average winning margin in that time is over 7.5 points per game.

Both teams are in a period of transition, and have used the League to give as many players a taste of competitive action as possible. Down boss Eamonn Burns has called upon 34 players so far, with Healy running the rule over 32.

Down showed definite defensive improvement in defeat to Roscommon and Dublin, yet they also displayed some serious naivety as well. Four points ahead of the All-Ireland champions eight minutes in, seven kick-outs straight down the middle from goalkeeper Michael Cunningham were gobbled up by Dublin as they registered 1-7 to Down’s 0-1 in the 27 minutes before half-time.

Neil Loughran, Andy Watters and Cahair O'Kane run the rule over this weekend's match-ups in Division One:

 

Although defensively Cork aren’t a patch on Dublin, they have the attacking power to cause Down major difficulties, with Peter Kelleher bringing pace and energy alongside experienced heads like Colm O’Neill and Paul Kerrigan.

Aside from Rostrevor forward Caolan Mooney, who opted out of the Down panel 10 days ago, Burns will be without Cahal Doyle and Malachy Magee for the trip to Cork after both picked up injuries at training during the week.

Joe Murphy was one of Down’s top performers after coming on for Kevin McKernan, who received a black card early on, and is pushing for a starting spot on Sunday. Gerard Collins could keep the right corner-back spot after being drafted in at late notice for the last two games, while it remains to be seen whether the Down boss will opt to start the more defensive-minded Ryan Mallon at centre-forward instead of Mark Poland.

There had been some speculation about Poland’s future in the red and black after he was dropped for the game against the Dubs, but Down selector Gerard Colgan insisted those rumours couldn’t be further from the truth.

“Mark’s fully committed” said Colgan.

“He’s trained as hard as anybody over the past few weeks and he’s part of the squad for Sunday as well so there’s no change there.”

With the damage already done in terms of their Division One survival hopes, Eamonn Burns will now be focussed on working out a system, and the personnel to suit it, for their Ulster Championship clash with reigning champions Monaghan on June 5.

Cork will want to go into final game against Munster rivals Kerry with their destiny in their own hands, and they can be expected to see off a dogged Down outfit.

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