CORK 4-11 DONEGAL 0-19: Tell it not in Gath, as the Bible puts it, but we had a largely enjoyable game of football yesterday in Croke Park. Given recent suggestions of the apocalypse for the sport, a reference to the good book seems appropriate.
Cork and Donegal served up a free-flowing NFL semi-final, one marked by slick passing and clever support play rather than the negativity and ill humour we’ve come to expect recently. If you accept the necessary health warnings then you were surely entertained by proceedings.
Cork won, but they’ll certainly be aware of those caveats, a term used afterwards by manager Brian Cuthbert. He wasn’t holding up the final quarter, for instance, as a model of savage, championship-level intensity.
“I suppose it turned into a challenge match, but certainly the first 15 minutes didn’t have a challenge match feel about it. I think the goals probably killed the game, and certainly the last 12 or 14 minutes had a challenge feel. But not from the outset.”
His Donegal counterpart also used the challenge match comparison.
“I’d say it might have looked a bit like that,” said Rory Gallagher.
“It’s difficult playing in Croke Park with so few there. It was definitely a bit soft. I can’t speak for Cork, but we went out and we opened up maybe a wee bit more than normal from our usual style. Still disappointed to concede the four goals that we did.”
Those were certainly the main talking point on a day of admirable freedom rather than claustrophobic covering. Donegal dominated midfield early on through Ohdran Mac Niallais, who started there rather than centre-forward.
They hit three points on the trot through Anthony Thompson, Michael Murphy and Paddy McBrearty before Cork responded through John O’Rourke and Fintan Goold.
Donegal eased four ahead before the end of the quarter, their seventh, a curler from Mac Niallais, the pick of them.
However, on 18 minutes Colm O’Neill won a good ball inside the 21 and placed Tom Clancy of Clonakilty, who goaled coolly — 1-4 to 0-7.
Donegal hit back through Murphy, McBrearty and Karl Lacey but Cork responded again, with points from a very impressive Goold (two) and Colm O’Driscoll to tie it up. A good Colm McFadden point was answered by a neat Colm O’Neill effort, making it 1-8 to 0-11 at the half.
Cork’s two goals on the resumption were crucial. A John O’Rourke shot came back from a post and O’Neill touched it home, while soon afterwards Eoin Cadogan found Brian Hurley with a long delivery and the ’Haven man blasted home — 3-9 to 0-12 on 40 minutes.
Donegal didn’t die, and O’Halloran had to look smart to deny McBrearty, but Cork killed the game on 56 minutes: Hurley made good ground when Kevin O’Driscoll broke up a Donegal attack, holding his pass until O’Neill was free to finish clinically — 4-11 to 0-17. Cork were able to maintain possession for much of the last 10 minutes, winning eventually by four to qualify for the league decider.
Clearly the ease with which they penetrated the Donegal defence appealed to the Cork boss.
“Happy we scored and looked to open up Donegal easy enough at times,” said Cuthbert.
“But I suppose the caveat to that, I wouldn’t be happy we conceded 19 points. Some of the goals, I think we were fortunate definitely with one or two of them, and they certainly gave us a nice cushion, but some of our defending was quite poor and definitely against Dublin or Monaghan it needs attention.”
Rory Gallagher said afterwards his side weren’t as fresh as they might have been, and anyone looking at Michael Murphy trudging back to his post at full-forward in the first-half, having made a lung-bursting run deep into his own half to cover, would have agreed.
When the game was in the melting pot before Cork’s fourth goal we had a glimpse of 14 Donegal players inside their own half, but only for a few seconds — for the closing stages Cork were free to pop the ball around in front of the Donegal defence without being confronted by swarming opponents.
For their part, Cork gave Mark Collins a roving brief to create space for their finishers, Hurley and O’Neill, in front of the opposition goal, and anyone expecting Cork to revert to an orthodox, if not downright naive, 15 positions for the league final is in for a disappointment. Their manager said the lessons of last year’s collapse against Dublin in the league semi-final are still vivid.
“The league games are totally different to this (game),” said Cuthbert.
“And this is completely different to championship. That realisation is there, totally.”
Normal service to be resumed in the league final?
Scorers for Cork:
C. O’Neill (2-2, 0-1f); B. Hurley (1-1), F. Goold (0-4); T. Clancy (1-0); M. Shields, C. Dorman, J. O’Rourke, C. O’Driscoll (0-1 each).
Scorers for Donegal:
M. Murphy (0-8, 0-2f, 0-2 45s); P. McBrearty (0-4); C. McFadden, M. McElhinney (0-2 each); K. Lacey, A. Thompson, O Mac Niallais (0-1 each).
Subs for Cork:
P. Kerrigan for Shields, inj, 54; D. Goulding for K. O’Driscoll, 59; Barry O’Driscoll for Brian O’Driscoll, 63; J. Hayes for Hurley, 67; D. Hodnett for O’Rourke, 68.
Subs for Donegal:
E. Doherty for Thompson, 39; M. O’Reilly for E. McHugh, 45; C. Toye for P. McGrath, 48; S. Griffin for C. McFadden, 59; D. McLaughlin for H. McFadden, 63.
M. Duffy (Sligo).
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