Most of his colleagues can still only wince at the mention of their 2009 All-Ireland quarter-final hammering by Cork but Rory Kavanagh chuckles.
He’s been plugging away with Donegal for a full decade now and knows this is how the media roles in the lead-in to big games: with the ashes of previous meetings raked for embers that may still smoulder months or years later.
It takes little digging through the events of three years ago in order to find a talking point. The scoreline said it all. Cork 1-27, Donegal 2-10. Only two goals in garbage time allowed the men from Ulster return north with even a modicum of respect. Kavanagh scored one of them but the majority of his afternoon was spent holding down an unfamiliar sweeper role.
“Aye, it was a sweeper role alright,” he laughed, “but it wasn’t too effective. Listen, it was a tough day at the office for us that day and we were going down the road not really knowing if we were good enough, if I am being perfectly honest.
“Maybe we hadn’t really learned how to play it and Cork certainly exposed us. Listen, I would like to think we are a different animal now. We are going down a lot better prepared now. We have a lot more scoring options so hopefully we can produce a big performance.”
Expectation and certainty has since ushered hope after two years under the inspirational Jim McGuinness. The alacrity with which it has all happened is well beyond astonishing.
“Listen, it has been a big turnaround, in fairness. We learned a lot from our run last year and we got a lot of criticism after the Dublin game for the fact that we didn’t really come out of our shell and go at Dublin and I suppose some of it was warranted so we have worked hard this year on trying to improve the defensive style of play.
“And we have been notching up some decent scores in the Ulster championship as well but we know that we are going to have to get up the field again against Cork because otherwise they have a lot of big men up there and they would be able to smother us so we will bring that intensity to the game.”
Intensity will hardly cover it. Kavanagh admitted it could be a case of who buckles first in a game which has been described as a potential car crash between two of modern football’s juggernauts.
“Aye, it will be a tough game. We can’t really predict until it gets going out on the field. Cork have a lot of quality in there. There are a lot of big men there and there might be an element of that alright. We’ll have to see what we both come up with.”
Neither have been found wanting so far, Donegal the more so given this will be their sixth championship fixture this year and it seems almost perverse that they may find themselves having usurped Tyrone, Kerry and Cork come Sunday evening and yet still be 70 minutes away from that elusive All-Ireland.
“That’s right. We have experienced Cork before in a couple of All-Ireland quarter-finals and, in fairness, they have shown their strength on those days but we feel that we are a wee bit better prepared this time.
“Going down to Croke Park again with another Ulster title under your belt gives you a wee bit of confidence going into the game. We have a good mix of youth and old boys there at the minute and we are confident we can put in a good performance.”
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