WHERE to now for Cork?
Early on in the year when Cork beat Kerry you might recall I said I would not be afraid of playing them again this season. It was not to be, but you will also recall that, prior to the Cork-Donegal game, I said I thought Donegal would play a more attacking game and I did predict a Donegal win against Cork. Not many of my fellow columnists agreed with me. I did at the time point out the weakness in the Cork defence and, in my view, Conor Counihan must be questioned on not improving this area over the last number of years and he also succumbed to Donegal's so called system that has every manager in the game bamboozled at the minute.
Now to me it's a system that can be undone and as I pointed out prior to the Cork-Donegal game it can be done with good outside shooters and I believe this is the way to break this defensive system that Donegal sometimes employ. But if you watch closely Donegal do something quite differently – they try to dominate in the middle of the park, which they did. Neil Gallagher totally dominated Alan O'Connor and when the game was in the melting pot he was quite outstanding in the middle third of the field.
Now it has to be said that Cork played into Donegal's hands by allowing them build up a lead and funnel players back behind the ball. Cork, just like Kerry, reverted to pumping balls high to Murphy and even when he did manage to break a ball there was no Cork forward close by. I smile away to myself when I read headlines about how Donegal continue on this so called revolutionary road.
Now, perhaps, the lads reporting on the games are a lot younger than me, but I saw this hunger before when Kerry won the All-Ireland in 1975. Hunger and determination and hard work and, it has to be said, a few very good footballers is the Jim McGuinness system – it has no scientific formula. It has a group of players committed to each other as a team and this is a great start for any management. One has to add discipline. They did not give away too many frees. That's another admirable thing about Donegal's performance against Cork.
When did we see Donnacha O'Connor leave the field without raising a white flag? Of course, he too suffered by being started on the wing as did Fintan Gould playing from wingback. This to me all seems as if Counihan left this so called system get inside his head or if I could put it another way: if the Cork management wanted to tinker with the Cork defence they should have done it over the last few years.
Carey cries off and O'Leary goes to cornerback to play on McBrearty. This was frightening stuff. Playing Kissane almost like a third midfielder? Poor tactics!
I remember when East Kerry used to play the Dr Crokes in Killarney, who adopted the same ideas as Jim McGuinness insofar as they travel the field to try and open up the spaces for their most dangerous forwards. Well you can oblige that tactic if you like and let the opposition dictate what type of game they want you to play or you can set out your own style and stick to it.
Donegal base a lot of their game in pulling half-backs out of position. They have a few good outside kickers, in particular McFadden, Michael Murphy on a good day too can do this kicking, but a lot of the Donegal scores come from defenders. In my calculation about five points came from the Donegal backs and midfielders against Cork because Cork left them out too easy from their own half of the field and the Cork team totally lost its defensive shape.
Going back to that comparison to the Crokes – we had a system of defenders holding their shape and not being drawn anywhere towards midfield. Forwards became defenders when they lost possession and defenders picked up the runners from the 45 metre line – that with early ball delivery will worry the Donegal system – but let's take nothing away from Donegal; they will contest this year's All-Ireland Final on merit.
Donegal have lit up what has been a poor Championship and as I said way back during the National League, that they could be the dark horses this year. Well they are only a game away from glory.
Cork, like Kerry, will probably look at their structure. On paper they looked good, but, in my opinion, only in the forward division. From a defensive situation I think right now they are worse off than Kerry in that area of th e