A month ago Kildare plundered a win as they scored a late 2-1 to sucker the Rebels, but here the hosts benefited as a one-way period around the three -quarter stages turned a 0-7 to 0-5 deficit into a 0-12 to 0-7 lead. It was some small comfort after last August’s All-Ireland semi-final defeat and the league last four now looks to be a real possibility, but the victory was tempered by the first-half loss of Colm O’Neill with a suspected cruciate ligament injury.
“It’s important to get the two points, but getting Colm right would be a bigger bonus from our point of view,” said Cork manager Conor Counihan. “It’s two points on the board, another two and we’ll have Division 1 status secured. We’d be disappointed with the first-half performance, we had 12 chances but only took three. You wouldn’t be writing home about it, but it was a solid enough performance.”
That Cork held their opponents scoreless from the 44th to 67th minutes will be pleasing, though Donegal manager Jimmy McGuinness’s comments afterwards will also ensure that no great significance is applied.
“Our play in the second half was a bit sloppy,” he said. “We weren’t our usual selves, we’re in the middle of a training phase and it reflected the way we played at certain periods.”
The key difference between the first half and the second was that Cork’s attack functioned better. Prior to O’Neill’s injury — he had got two of their three points — which got them back into contention after Donegal had scored the first three. He was the focal point though, and for the 17 minutes after he retired until half-time, Cork were toothless — and scoreless — moving the ball well until reaching the 45m line and then going sideways or backwards under pressure from their opponents. What was encouraging was that their play at the other end was impressive, having clearly taken a page or two out of the Donegal playbook. Mark Collins played as if his surname was McHugh, right down to the number 12 on his back, and he and Andrew O’Sullivan worked incredibly hard in dropping deep to get possession.
The full-back line of Michael Shields, Eoin Cadogan and Jamie O’Sullivan impressed. It was telling that only one Cork point came from a free — the last, by Mark Collins — yet both Michael Murphy and Colm McFadden were scoreless from play.
One passage of play in the 16th minute was illustrative. McFadden had possession but was surrounded by a red circle, referee David Coldrick eventually awarding a free out for over-holding, while on another occasion O’Sullivan read the danger when Neil McGee attempted to play Murphy in for a certain goal.
And yet, despite the positive energy being expended, Cork still turned around trailing by 0-5 to 0-3, Dermot Molloy’s point the only score between O’Neill’s injury and half-time.
The first four points of the second half were shared, Paul Kerrigan and Paudie Kissane scoring from play for Cork while Michael Murphy kicked a free and a 45 for the visitors, but twice home goalkeeper Ken O’Halloran had to save smartly when Ross Wherity got a scent of goal.
Cork were lifted by those let-offs, and with the burgeoning midfield partnership of Graham Canty and Aidan Walsh getting on top, they clawed their way back. Collins and sub Liam Shorten drew them level at 0-7 each, and Andrew O’Sullivan rounded off a good move involving Kissane and Kerrigan to put them in front for the first time.
Cork stretched the lead to five by the 65th minute, before a Murphy free and a McFadden 45 had Donegal back to within a goal. That almost materialised as Murphy looked to be in on goal but Cadogan capsized him — “I don’t know if it was a penalty, but it was fairly obvious what the tactic was when he got through on goal,” said McGuinness after — and while McFadden converted the resultant free, they would not fashion another chance and Cork prevailed.
Scorers for Cork: C O’Neill, P Kissane, L Shorten, M Collins (0-1 1f) 0-2 each; A Walsh, P Kerrigan, B O’Driscoll, A O’Sullivan 0-1.
Scorers for Donegal: M Murphy 0-5 (0-4f, 0-1 45), C McFadden 0-3 (0-2 fs, 0-1 45), P McBrearty, D Molloy 0-1.
Cork:K O'Halloran; J O'Sullivan, M Shields, E Cadogan; T Clancy, N O'Leary, P Kissane; G Canty, A Walsh; A O'Sullivan, F Goold, M Collins; B O'Driscoll, C O'Neill, P Kerrigan.
Subs for Cork: L Shorten for O’Neill (18, inj), D O’Connor for Goold (45), A O’Connor for J O’Sullivan (61), E O’Mahony for Canty (65), D Goulding for A O’Sullivan (70).
Donegal: P Durcan; P McGrath, N McGee, E McGee; D Walsh, F McGlynn, L McLoone; R Kavanagh, M Murphy; R Bradley, P McBrearty, R Wherity; D Molloy, C McFadden, N Gallagher.
Subs for Donegal: M McElhinney for Molloy, R McHugh for Wherity (both 53).