What a difference a week makes. Last Sunday, the decision by Tipperary to have Lar Corbett mark Tommy Walsh was denounced as heresy.
In the build-up to tomorrow’s game, there is barely an eyebrow being raised at the suggestions of another forward picking up a (de facto) defender. Different sports, yes, but still it shows football is more amenable to breaking convention. So should Patrick Kelly pick up Mark McHugh? Or should it actually be seen that way? While McHugh might be vying with Frank McGlynn as the main candidate for footballer of the year, Kelly’s worth has been proven these last four seasons.
Few players look as assured as the Ballincollig man in possession and if he is to duel with McHugh, the Donegal man will be on his heels as much as his toes.
It’s appropriate that McHugh, like McGlynn a sweeper, is the embodiment of Jim McGuinness’s Donegal, given how quick he is to turn defence into attack.
It will be imperative for Cork’s attack to be relentless in stopping their opponents break in marauding phalanxes.
That may see them incur a glut of yellow cards but it’ll be put down as collateral damage.
There’s no doubt Kelly himself will go deep. He did so against Kildare and his excellent footballing brain, combined with Aidan Walsh’s drive, were two of the main reasons for that handsome quarter-final win.
Considering Cork are likely to dominate possession, there will be a considerable premium on recycling and retaining it and denying Donegal their “scoring turnovers”.
Donegal have been at pains to state just how much they respect Cork and that will likely be seen in how they set up. Both teams are traditionally slow starters but a good early platform is more important to Donegal. It allows them to do what they do best — bed themselves in and counter-attack.
Colm McFadden’s freak goal in the win over Kerry allowed them to do just that and Cork will be mindful not to afford them such a luxury.
With a defence that has failed to concede a goal so far this summer, their defence will be keen to live up to their Fort Knox billing although Donegal have conceded just three in McGuinness’ 11 SFC games and Paul Durcan is the best keeper in this year’s Championship.
Having the Kildare game under their belts, the fear of rustiness is behind Cork and they know their direct, hard-running style has to be varied if they are to avoid being swallowed up by the Donegal masse.
If they can’t go through it, they must go around it and it is on the flanks where the Ulster champions are at their weakest. Given their methodical build-up approach, the idea of lumping high ball into a tall target man must remain a plan B, as Donegal sweepers will be given the time to retreat in front of Neil McGee. Also, Pearse O’Neill and Ciarán Sheehan are just the type of pile-driving auxiliaries that can cause the type of panic that beset the Donegal defence late on in the Kerry game. Daniel Goulding’s sharpshooting presence will be needed.
As Kerry discovered, accuracy from long range is essential against Donegal, not to mention free-taking, which Cork excelled at against Kildare.
Things will be physical and David Coldrick must be vigilant. Cork have shown that they won’t tolerate anybody attempting to mix it with them while Donegal have been guilty of cynicism as well these past few months.
Beyond the machismo, it is Cork that have slightly more compelling attributes to win. There will be moments to be concerned but they are a mature outfit who have left themselves no excuses not to show what they genuinely feel is their superiority. Donegal aren’t Kerry but as Kerry slayers they’re the next best thing. Taking that scalp would be a most prized one.
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