Cork retain Division Two status with storming finish against Meath

Rebel county scored last seven points after Meath had led by three points

National Football League Division Two: Cork 1-15 Meath 1-11

Cork were slow starters in this year’s National Football League, and yet it has been their ability to generate whirlwind finishes that has secured their Division Two status for another year.

The Rebels scored the last seven points in Páirc Tailteann to ensure survival in the division. Meath led by three after Mathew Costello’s 54th-minute goal but Cork outscored the Royals 0-8 to 0-1 over the remainder of the contest.

Having lost their opening three games of the campaign, Cork have now won their last three – having come from behind in all of those to take maximum points. It was an injury-time goal against Fermanagh, a strong second half against Kildare and now seven points without reply coming down the home straight against Meath.


“We were in a corner [after Meath’s goal] and in fairness the lads came out fighting in the last 10-15 minutes and worked some great scores,” said Cork manager John Cleary.

“We were delighted to be going down the road with the two points this evening. Our display in the last 10-15 minutes, particularly from the bench, was outstanding. We’re delighted with that.”

Four of Cork’s last eight points came from subs – three from the impressive Steven Sherlock and one from Mark Cronin. Three of those eight scores came from marauding wing backs Luke Fahy (two) and Matty Taylor (one), while full-forward Conor Corbett added the other – taking his tally for the afternoon to 1-3.

Of Cork’s 1-15 total, 1-14 came from open play.

The sides were level at the interval, Corbett’s early goal had given the visitors the advantage, but Meath finished the half strongly by scoring the last four points – including two lovely scores by Eoghan Frayne, 0-7 to 1-4.

The game, played in showery conditions, had no shortage of mistakes – there was a litany of handling errors, misplaced passes and turnovers by both teams. However, the match appeared to take a decisive turn when Costello netted in the 54th minute.

It was a goal pulled from the Meath archives – a high delivery in on top of a big full forward, who bustles his marker out of the way and smacks the ball to the back of the net.

“Kerry do it with long ball to David Clifford, Dublin do it with long ball to Con O’Callaghan, it still works very well,” said Meath manager Colm O’Rourke of the direct approach.

“And when you have a player of Matt Costello’s calibre, he’s good in the air and he’s strong, so why not take advantage of it?”

Costello had shown his aerial prowess only moments earlier when rising to the clouds above Daniel O’Mahony, plucking the ball from the sky and clipping over a point. Costello’s quick-fire 1-1 put Meath 1-10 to 1-7 ahead. Inexplicably, the home side downed tools after that and Cork owned the game thereafter.

“If the clock stopped after 60 minutes I would have said that was quite a good performance after shipping an early goal and fighting back,” added O’Rourke.

“I thought we were comfortable going into the last quarter of the game, it’s normally a good quarter for us and we have finished strongly, but instead of that we became a bit disjointed, disorganised and we committed all sorts of silly mistakes.

“We had trouble getting our kickouts away when Cork pushed up on us and we were a bit tentative instead of going for the kill when we were three up, playing the ball around and not attacking at the sort of pace we had been doing. It came back to bite us a bit.

“And Cork really upped their game at that stage too, so we’ve no complaints, beaten by a better team, we’ll suck it up and get on with it, it’s a young team making plenty of mistakes and it’s just as well it’s not going to have any great significance as far as regelation is concerned.”

And Cork’s extra need could have been a factor in those last 15 minutes because Meath were already safe in the division while the Rebels were hovering over the relegation trapdoor. You can’t measure hunger and desire, but certainly in the closing stages one team tackled the match like it was championship fare while the other seemed to be waiting for a pitch opening challenge match to be over.

“No, I wouldn’t buy into that,” countered O’Rourke. “We talked during the week that we needed to be in a position if Kildare did us a favour against Donegal that we would tidy up our side of things and be going to Donegal next week with something to play for.

“We also had set out as an ambition this year not to get beaten at home in the league, so I wouldn’t put the fact we were safe in the division as an excuse at all. We were looking for a win here, we prepared as well as we have for any other game and there are no excuses.”

Cork were in Portugal on a warm-weather training camp before this game and perhaps that played a part in their powerful finish, because as Meath legs tired, the Rebels appeared to grow stronger with every late score.

And while the result doesn’t guarantee Cork Sam Maguire football this summer – Meath ended up in the Tailteann Cup after finishing sixth in Division Two last year – this victory sends their season on a much more positive course.

“We thought [the training camp] was very useful,” added Cleary. “We train Wednesday and Friday nights and you don’t get an awful lot of time to work with these guys.

“We said at the start of the year that if we could get three or four days together and a bit of a block that it would be good for spirit and it would be also good to work on our game plan.”

If that plan was to go on a scoring spree in the last 15 minutes, then mission accomplished. It’s as good a way as any to retain your Division Two status.

CORK: Christopher Kelly; Kevin Flahive, Daniel O’Mahony, Tommy Walsh; Luke Fahy (0-2), Seán Meehan, Matty Taylor (0-1); Ian Maguire, Colm O’Callaghan; Seán Powter (0-1), Paul Walsh, Brian O’Driscoll (0-1); Chris Óg Jones (0-1), Conor Corbett (1-3), Brian Hurley (0-2). Subs: Ruairí Deane for Walsh (44 mins); Steven Sherlock (0-3, one free) for Hurley (48 mins); Mark Cronin (0-1) for Jones (55 mins); Killian O’Hanlon for O’Driscoll (55 mins); Eoghan McSweeney for Deane (65 mins)

MEATH: Seán Brennan (0-3, three 45s); Donal Keogan, Adam O’Neill, Brian O’Halloran; Ciarán Caufield, Darragh Campion, Seán Coffey; Cian McBride, Daithí McGowan; Cathal Hickey, Mathew Costello (1-2, one free), Jack O’Connor; Ruairí Kinsella (0-2), Shane Walsh (0-1), Eoghan Frayne (0-3, one free). Subs: Michael Murphy for Campion (27 mins); Danny Dixon for O’Connor (50 mins); Adam Mac Dónaill for Kinsella (56 mins); Diarmuid Moriarty for McBride (70 mins); Harry O’Higgins for Caufield (72 mins)

REFEREE: Thomas Murphy (Galway)

Gordon Manning

Gordon Manning

Gordon Manning is a sports journalist, specialising in Gaelic games, with The Irish Times