Although Donegal only won by two points on the scoreboard, they were really five or six points a better team than Cork on the day.
If they had their shooting boots on in the second half, they could have won by more than that. This was a real team effort by Donegal, with defenders and midfielders contributing six points from play. The big difference between this complete performance and Kerry game was the ball-winning display of midfielder Neil Gallagher and a return to form of captain Michael Murphy.
Of the 19 contested kick outs in the first half, Donegal won 11 with Gallagher responsible for most. Keeper Paul Durcan was clearly avoiding Aidan Walsh.
Sometimes a player sends out a statement to his team-mates and the opposition, and with all the talk of Cork’s great ball-winning ability around the middle, Gallagher laid down a marker.
As a result of his dominance, there were only 10 contested kickouts in the second half, with Cork opting for more short kickouts. It goes without saying that it’s harder to break down a blanket defence when you have to start from your own defence rather than the opposition 45.
Murphy’s return to form may be as a result of an improvement in his fitness or recovery from an early season injury but more likely it’s a result of being deployed closer to goal and being fed some early long ball.
And although not winning every ball that went in, there was a sense of danger every time the ball went into Murphy, which gives belief to colleagues further outfield looking for ways to score. In fact Donegal played all three full-forwards close to goal in the first half before deploying Paddy McBrearty deeper in the second to help batten down the hatches.
This positive approach paid dividends for Donegal although I felt their forwards got a couple of handier frees than their Cork counterparts.
As ever when you lose to Donegal, you must look at the first half for the reasons. I felt Cork played too much with their heads down and there was definitely space in the inside line for a pass to be threaded through to the in-form Colm O’Neill and Donncha O’Connor. Paul Kerrigan threaded through one such pass for an O’Neill score. Too often this option was passed up in favour of ball retention through a lateral handpass.
I was also disappointed with Cork’s lack of willingness to take on and beat the man in front of them. Eoin Cadogan was an honourable exception to this and Paul Kerrigan to a lesser extent in the first half. A Ciarán Sheehan point from play in the first half had its genesis in Cadogan winning a short kick-out before taking on and beating three Donegal opponents to set up the move.
Cork will regret not backing their physique and power to break the first line of the blanket before sucking in a defender with a lateral handpass to a support runner.
Especially demoralising were the two easy wides by O’Neill and Sheehan in the first half after great work by Paudie Kissane turning over two Donegal attacks. Cork had the opportunities and needed to be three or four points ahead of Donegal at half-time but failed to do so.
With Donegal having the ability in the second half of games to fill the space in the first half, the signs were ominous at half-time.
Cork needed to start the second half well but their first four attacks were unsuccessful before Donegal added three great scores from play through McFadden and defenders — the inspirational Karl Lacey and skilful corner-back Frank McGlynn — with his weak foot.
The game may have changed had not Colm O’Neill’s effort hit the crossbar in the 45th minute, which would have left just one point in it.
Cork’s subs failed to make a serious impact.
Cork started half-forward Fintan Gould on sweeper Mark McHugh but Donegal have an ability to impose their style on opponents and it wasn’t long before McHugh was operating alone as sweeper and Paudie Kissane likewise at the other end.
They also communicate really well in their defence and it was interesting that when big Nicholas Murphy came in as sub, the Donegal defenders changed their marking arrangements themselves without any need of their maor foirne to issue instructions.
With wins over Tyrone, Kerry and Cork, Donegal are really primed to challenge for Sam Maguire. Jim McGuinness will keep them grounded. Confidence must be sky high and they have very little to be working on save for a tendency to concede late goals when in the driving seat.
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