Cork's John O'Rourke could negate Donegal's Ryan McHugh in Croke Park

Cork's John O'Rourke could negate Donegal's Ryan McHugh in Croke Park
Donegal's Ryan McHugh.

Is there a case to be made for starting John O’Rourke in the half-back line in place of the suspended James Loughrey when Cork tackle Donegal in the last 12 of the All-Ireland series next Saturday week?

One of the greatest oddities of the present Cork side is that O’Rourke is not an automatic starter in the half-forward line, writes Peter McNamara.

 John O’Rourke in action for Cork last season.
John O’Rourke in action for Cork last season.

The Carbery Rangers man is one of the very few players in Peadar Healy’s squad that ticks all of the boxes required to be a proficient inter-county senior footballer.

He did start the provincial semi-final loss to Tipperary in Thurles yet, was reduced to a substitute’s role in Pearse Park last Saturday.

Even if O’Rourke didn’t pull up any trees in Semple Stadium, he has to be on the pitch from the off against the northerners if the Rebels are to increase their chances of advancing to the All-Ireland quarter-final.

As it is, which Cork players really pulled up any trees at all in defeat to the Premier County?

It’s obvious Healy isn’t aware of what his best starting 15 is and that has been an issue for a whole host of managers of the team for years now.

Obviously, Healy made the correct calls by pitching Paddy Kelly, Colm O’Neill and O’Rourke into the mix after half-time in the Leesiders’ most recent outing.

And he, along with his selectors, deserve the praise they get for those shouts.

However, why were those three players on the bench in the first place? Forget about a number of operators not turning up for the Tipp showdown. You have to trust that these occurrences can be championship one-offs and that those same players will be eager to atone for a below-par display anyway.

It’s understandable and important to have experienced artillery in reserve if that was the Cork management’s argument against starting with players such as those mentioned.

Still, though, given Longford were always going to truly test Cork’s resolve in their own backyard surely it was apparent to Healy and co that beginning the game on this occasion with as much experience of these awkward situations as possible was paramount?

At the end of the day though the Rebels move on and are one victory away from the business end of the All-Ireland series, the last-eight stage.

O’Rourke should be detailed for a specific role in their tie with Rory Gallagher’s charges, however.

Whether he is selected in the half-back line or as a wing-forward is irrelevant really.

O’Rourke’s primary purpose in Croke Park should be to shadow Ryan McHugh.

The Kilcar dynamo is the heartbeat of Donegal currently.

The vast majority of the northerners’ attacks are generated by plays involving the roaming McHugh, obviously.

Yet, by placing O’Rourke on him for the tussle at headquarters Healy will be giving Gallagher an unwanted headache as the Leesider is capable of seriously disrupting McHugh’s offensive rhythm.

O’Rourke’s natural preference is to attack from deep-lying sectors of the field.

Yet, his energy and dogmatic tackling could be of huge benefit to Cork at headquarters.

O’Rourke is really the main hope for the Rebels in their quest to shutdown Donegal’s chief supplier of oxygen, especially in the middle-third as he would represent a like-for-like counterbalance to McHugh.

Two players with a low centre of gravity that are top-of-the-ground footballers could easily cancel each other out which would hurt Gallagher’s crew a lot more than it would impact on Cork.

Furthermore, O’Rourke would also give McHugh plenty to think about in relation to fulfilling his defensive duties as he drops back to gain possessions and engineer counterattacks for Donegal.

O’Rourke is the ultimate team player and needs to be entrusted with the job of nullifying such a classy and mobile operator.

Speaking of players expected to sacrifice a substantial percentage of their attacking prowess for the betterment of their unit, the use of Kevin McLoughlin by Stephen Rochford within the Mayo panel is questionable.

Granted, there was an obvious improvement in McLoughlin’s output as a defensive cover on Saturday night as the westerners overcame Kildare.

Yet, surely he is an even more essential component of the side as a roaming wing-forward?

In time, maybe we will see McLoughlin really embracing his revised detail with Mayo.

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