Cork almost pulled off the great escape with a one-point win over Armagh but results elsewhere means they will be playing Division Three football next year for the first time in their history.
Clare’s win over Tipperary in Thurles relegated Cork along with Tipp, meaning their much-improved display at the Athletic Grounds counted for nothing.
They’ll have plenty of time to wonder if they had played as well in all their games as they played in this match, would they have found themselves in this position where their fate was not in their own hands.
They led 2-6 to 0-6 at half time with two early goals from Brian Hurley the highlights of a whirlwind start when they hit an unanswered 2-3 in an eight-minute spell.
Even when Armagh drew level for the first and only time in the game through Rory Grugan’s free in the 67th minute, Cork kicked on with late points from subs Cian Kiely and Damien Gore to clinch a hollow victory.
It had all looked so good for the Rebels at half time, leading by six with Tipperary leading Clare by five points in Thurles.
Hurley’s first goal came in the fourth minute. He cut in along the sideline, exchanged quick passes with Mark Collins before burying the ball low to the far corner.
He skinned Paul Hughes again for the second, prompting Armagh to switch markers, with another low left-footed finish to help Cork into a useful 2-3 to 0-1 lead.
Armagh, already safe in Division Two, had little to play for and it certainly looked like that in a sluggish opening half, although Aidan Forker carved out a good goal chance which Mark White blasted over the bar.
The home side did have a good spell just before the break landing three out of four scores through Jemar Hall and Rory Grugan two to close the gap to six.
Cork found a lot of joy cutting Armagh open clean through the middle and Eoghan McSweeney two, Cillian O’Hanlon and Mark Collins stroked over lovely points with the wind at their backs.
Armagh lost Niall Grimley to a black card for a foot trip in first-half stoppage time, but going down to 14 players didn’t unsettle them in the early stages of the second period.
They outscored Cork by six points to one in the third quarter with Rian O’Neill, Jamie Clarke and James Morgan all brought off the bench to inject more urgency into Armagh.
O’Neill landed a free and a mark with two Grugan frees and a fisted Joe McElroy point making things interesting with Cork only scoring one point in the first 26 minutes of the second half.
Just as Armagh came to life, Cork hit back with a brilliantly-taken goal from Kevin Crowley. The Cork defender bursting through the tackle and a low finish from 21 metres out.
Instantly, Armagh responded with a raiding attack and McElroy was fouled in the square, with Jamie Clarke stepping up to bury the ball low inside White’s left-hand post.
Grugan’s free brought Armagh level, but Cork rallied with the late points to win the battle, but lose the war.
Scorers for Armagh: Rory Grugan 0-6 5fs, Jamie Clarke 1-0 pen, Rian O’Neill 0-3 2fs, one mark, Joe McElroy, Aidan Forker, Jarlath Og Burns, Jemar Hall, Niall Grimley 0-1 each.
Scorers for Cork: Brian Hurley 2-0, Kevin Crowley 1-0, Mark Collins 0-3 1f, Eoghan McSweeney 0-2, Cillian O’Hanlon, John O’Rourke, Damien Gore, Cian Kiely 0-1 each.
ARMAGH: Blaine Hughes; Patrick Burns, Joe McElroy, Paul Hughes; Ryan Kennedy, Brendan Donaghy, Aidan Forker; Jarlath Og Burns, Niall Grimley; Rory Grugan, Charlie Vernon, Jemar Hall; Ethan Rafferty, Pearse Casey, Stefan Campbell.
Subs: Jamie Clarke for Campbell 29, Rian O’Neill for Vernon 44, James Morgan for Hughes 51, Aidan Nugent for Casey 58.
CORK: Mark White; Kevin Flahive, Thomas Clancy, Conor Dennehy; Kevin Crowley, Tomas Clancy, Mattie Taylor; Ian Maguire, Cillian O’Hanlon; Eoghan McSweeney, John O’Rourke, Ruairi Deane; Brian Hurley, Mark Collins, Sean White.
Subs: Kevin O’Driscoll for O’Rourke 26, Cian Kiely for Taylor HT, Damien Gore for Hurley 48, Peter Kelleher for McSweeney 66, Stephen Cronin for Sean White 70.
REFEREE: Maurice Deegan Laois.