Croke Park was an eerie place on Saturday. I can’t recall too many occasions when it has felt that unusual and it beats me how the GAA came to the conclusion there were 28,000 people there.
The football offered up by Cork and Donegal wasn’t as strange, although I was quite surprised by how well Peadar Healy’s men did in the first half, and frankly astonished with the ease Donegal’s mass defence was broken down. That changed, though, in the second half and, in the end, it felt as if Cork left the game behind them.
But for Paddy McBrearty, Donegal would be out of the championship.
Cork, though, just can’t be trusted in any way, shape or form. Healy said afterwards that they are in transition but it feels like they’ve been that way ever since 2010, because you can’t but look at it as a downward spiral.
I keep coming back to the point I always make about Cork — they have the players. But they need an outside manager. If there is one team in the country who can benefit most from an outside influence, somebody with a bit of nous and know-how as to close out games, then it’s Cork.
They need somebody who can structure the team properly because I see nothing different from them this year than from the days of the Conor Counihan era.
The players don’t look as if they’re thinking enough about the game. Their set-up isn’t what it should be. If you were to transplant Dublin’s system into Cork, I have no doubt whatsoever they would be challenging for honours.
If I were Cork manager, I would make two big changes, the first being upping intensity.
Seeing them trail Donegal late on in Saturday’s game, they didn’t look like they were hurting enough. I’m not sure how much it means to them. The second thing I would do is alter is their style — they would be the most direct football team that Gaelic football has ever seen.
I’m not talking about putting the ball into the full-forward line at every chance but mixing long ball into the inside line with running at defences with pace. If Cork could do that, they could be so successful but until then they remain the greatest anomaly in the GAA.
As I said, coming away from Croke Park it felt like a game Cork left behind them but with the benefit of hindsight I can’t be down on Donegal forever — I have to give them some credit.
Yes, it’s a good job McBrearty clicked as he did. On other days, so many of those shots he took would have sailed wide and then Donegal would have been in trouble.
But I’m always looking at Donegal with a critical eye to see if they are capable of pulling off a shock like they did against Dublin two years ago. They have been extremely consistent in getting to quarter-finals, this being their sixth in as many years. With what I view as an ageing panel, that is a fair achievement.
It was notable against Cork that two of their best players were Ryan McHugh and Eoin McHugh. They are so suited to Croke Park because they have speed to burn.
Look at how quick Ciarán Gillespie was to block down Paddy Kelly. Bringing that youth through has benefited Donegal greatly but they haven’t introduced anywhere near enough and I fear that will be their downfall when they square up to Dublin in five days time.
The wheels didn’t come off on Saturday but against Tyrone, some of their more experienced players let them down, and it was as if they were operating like a Robin Reliant.
None of the other All-Ireland quarter-finalists have built up as much resolve as Donegal these last few years and that can serve them well. I actually believe there is another gear in them but will they get to show it against Dublin? If they were facing any other county, I would fancy Donegal but you look at what Donegal have been through already this summer, facing Monaghan twice, Tyrone, Cork and Fermanagh and having seven days to ready themselves for the All-Ireland champions looks the tallest of tasks.
They deserve a lot of kudos for getting their wagon on the road again but without more pace, they are likely to be stopped in their tracks.
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