Donegal 0-21 Cork 1-15: Death with dignity for Cork but a telling reminder of how the ways things used to be. Six years ago, this was the way they won games: grinding down the opposition, submitting them to their will, drawing them into making pressurised decisions.
Here it was they who buckled to Donegal’s command as the Ulster runners-up’s experience told so much in the final quarter.
A combined age of 66, it was the youthful Kilcar triumvirate of Paddy McBrearty and the McHugh cousins, Ryan and Eoin, that contributed a whopping 16 of Donegal’s 21 points. However, it was the introduction of Christy Toye (33), Leo McLoone (27) and Ryan’s older brother Mark (25) that reinforced Donegal as they went about demonstrating their superiority in general play in that period on the scoreboard.
It was a credit to Cork it wasn’t until the 62nd minute Donegal eventually went ahead in the second-half. Yet that trio were prominent in the closing stages when scores, so plentiful in the opening 50 minutes, had dried up. They were crucial in turning over ball and helping to engineer frees down the final stretch. Cork themselves, as they did against Longford, brought on seasoned men in Paddy Kelly and Colm O’Neill. Aidan Walsh was also a valuable reinforcement but they couldn’t get the same purchase in the forward line they did in the first half when they were puncturing holes in Donegal’s defence at will.
Without the injured Alan O’Connor in the second half and Donncha O’Connor understandable fading as he returned from injury having put in a bright first half, it was no wonder Peadar Healy afterwards was making a public plea for Cork’s older generation to remain on for the 2017 season.
“I suppose today would be encouraging, but we needed more consistent performances throughout the championship and throughout the national league as well and we didn’t have them. It’s a team in transition. We would hope the older players, the likes of Alan O’Connor and Daniel Goulding, would stay on, because they need to be around these young fellas.”
Walsh didn’t look out of place coming on in the second half and Healy confirmed he will attempt to persuade the Kanturk man and Alan Cadogan to throw their lot in with the footballers next season but a dual agreement is out of the question.
“Personally, I think they can’t do it, it’s impossible to do it (play both hurling and football). You could see yourself now today, if we had (Alan) Cadogan and Aidan Walsh for another two or three months, some of the basic skills, the turnovers they gave away, that wasn’t happening with the other 13 players around them. To be fair, they came on and Aidan made a major contribution. I think it was the turnovers (which were costly), you can’t turn the ball over to Donegal here. They did well to come on.”
Cork were good value for the 1-9 to 0-11 half-time lead. They racked up six wides by that stage and added another nine, forced into making low percentage shots. Paul Kerrigan’s 17th minute goal came as a result of the Donegal back-line falling asleep at a quick Cork free, the strike putting Cork five points up.
Donegal, though, scored seven of the next eight points, McBrearty firing over three of them. Yet Cork did finish the half strongly and may have had another goal but for Neil McGee blocking Ian Maguire.
“We did particularly on the wings and down the centre with players coming off the shoulder,” reviewed Healy. “We could have been a score or two more ahead, we created two goal chances, in fairness. Kerrigan took his very well and Maguire had another but we couldn’t finish it. Having said that, we had only a 28% scoring record in the second half and 62% in the first — that tells its own story. You’d have to say that that experience that Donegal brought, as well, that showed in the end.”
The sides were level on four occasions and Cork had actually gone two up in the 51st minute before McBrearty’s 62nd minute free won by Ódhran Mac Niallais put Donegal ahead. Michael Murphy (free), Ryan McHugh with his third point and McBrearty with his 11th sealed it for Donegal. Colm O’Neill’s point in the sixth minute of additional time breaking a 25-minute gap to Cork’s last score, also scored by the replacement.
Healy admitted McBrearty, who gave Eoin Cadogan and Tom Clancy an afternoon of pain, was a constant thorn in their side. “We couldn’t get a handle on McBrearty either, he was exceptionally good. We tried three or four fellas marking him. (Suspended) James Loughrey was a big loss to us, so was Noel Galvin (injured) along with Jamie O’Sullivan. Those were three good man-markers we didn’t have available. We have no excuses. They ground us down and deserved the win.”
Some comfort could be drawn from how Cork conducted themselves on their first SFC game in Croke Park since 2014 but Healy knows it ended an unsatisfactory first year for him in charge.
“The Cork supporters, they’re tough boys to please. We’ve taken a lot of criticism, Peadar Healy would be very critical of Peadar Healy, that’s for sure. It’s human nature, it’s the game we’re in, there are 31 counties not going to win an All-Ireland, they’re going to have the same problem. Cork being Cork, and that’s it, there’s no mercy. It’s the game we’re in, that’s it and we all know it.”
Scorers for Donegal:
P. McBrearty (0-11, 0-4 frees); R. McHugh (0-3); E. McHugh, M. Murphy (1 free) (0-2 each); K. Lacey, F. McGlynn, Ó Mac Niallais (0-1 each).
Scorers for Cork:
P. Kerrigan (1-1); Tom Clancy, K. O’Driscoll, D. O’Connor, C. O’Driscoll, C.O’Neill (frees) (0-2 each); S. Powter, M. Collins, A. Walsh, Tomás Clancy (0-1 each).
M.A. McGinley; N. McGee, É. McGee, P. McGrath; A. Thompson; K. Lacey, F. McGlynn, M. O’Reilly; R. Kavanagh, Ó Mac Niallais; E. McHugh, M. McElhinney, R. McHugh; P. McBrearty, M. Murphy.
C. Gillespie for É. McGee (43); L. McLoone for R. Kavanagh (46); C. Toye for A. Thompson (55); M. McHugh for F. McGlynn (61); E. Doherty for N. McGee (69); H. McFadden for M. McElhinney (70+1). Black card: P. McBrearty (70+6).
R. Price; E. Cadogan, Tom Clancy (Clonakilty); S. Cronin; C. O’Driscoll, Tomás Clancy (Fermoy), K. O’Driscoll; A. O’Connor, I Maguire; S. Powter; M. Collins, M. Hurley; P. Kerrigan, P. Kelleher, D. O’Connor.
A. Walsh for A. O’Connor (inj 35+1); P. Kelly for P. Kelleher (42); C. O’Neill for D. O’Connor (47); B. O’Driscoll for Tom Clancy (inj 48); J. O’Rourke for K. O’Driscoll (62); A. Cadogan for S. Powter (69).
P. Neilan (Roscommon).
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