CAN we give Donegal the props please?
And not just for the system. When we talk about Donegal we talk too much about "the system". It's a fact of life. It exists. It has helped Donegal get to where they are now. It takes an unbelievable work-rate and dedication to make it work properly. It also takes a seriously talented bunch of footballers to implement it effectively.
Just let us not become to focussed on "the system", not seeing the wood for the trees. Let's be clear here. The reason why Donegal beat Cork at the weekend is that they're better footballers.
Contrast the centrebacks. Graham Canty versus Karl Lacey. Canty is gutsy and game and has been a brilliant servant for Cork football for over a decade. He just isn't on the same level as Lacey as a footballer. Lacey is silky and classy. He glides up the pitch and effortlessly strokes the ball over the bar. Canty is workman like and dogged. He gets up the pitch too, but without the panache and the guile of Lacey.
They have Anthony Thompson. They have Frankie McGlynn, possibly the most talented (on the ball) corner-back of his generation – Marc Ó Sé must look on with envy at the latitude to attack he is afforded by Jim McGuinness. They have Colm McFadden, who's hitting points that were they scored by a Kerry footballer would be rightly heralded as up there with some of the very best ever scored. They've got Mark McHugh, who must be the well rounded Gaelic footballer of his generation. He was everywhere yet again on Sunday.
Those are the individuals that light up this Donegal team. As a collective they're better still. They do the basics. They do them exceptionally well. They kick passes. They kick points. They field possession around the middle of the Park – an unexpected innovation, Neil Gallagher was a revelation and outshone both Alan O'Connor and Aidan Walsh... oh and did we mention that they're not at all dour anymore?
In point of fact they're thrilling to watch. Their evolution is a lot like Dublin's was. People tend to forget how turgid Dublin's game was back in 2010 after they lost out to Meath (the day the Royals smashed five goals past them) in the Leinster championship semi-final. They went ever bit as defensive as Donegal did last year and now Donegal, like Dublin last year, are evolving from that to play a far more positive brand of football.
They remain cautious, of course, and nowhere was this more evident than in the game against Kerry. With the early goal they didn't have to open up in the manner in which they had to against Cork. Playing Kerry that was the right approach to take. Unless you have to do you really want to be too gung-ho against Com Cooper and Donaghy and Declan O'Sullivan?
Donegal did what they had to that day. They did what they had to against Cork on Sunday. What they had to do against Cork was far more impressive and easy on the eye. If it suits them more to play like they did in the quarter-final in the final against either Mayo or Dublin in the final then that's what they'll attempt to do and because they're such good footballers that is what they will do. They can adapt. They can think on their feet.
They're reactive and reflexive in a way that Cork simply are not. In fairness to Cork they're not the first team to freeze when confronted with Donegal's intensity. They're not the first team to become ground down by the relentless tackling of the Tir Chonaill men.
Unbelievably, after thirty minutes on Sunday it seemed like their race was run. Up until then they'd been quite impressive. Kerrigan's running was direct and effective. They were moving the ball fast.
They were linking up well and punching through the wall of Donegal bodies and finding space. Colm O'Neill on the rare occasions he came into possession of the ball had the better of his man and then… and then it all stopped. With about thirty minutes on the clock Cork's energy levels dropped. The running, the off-loading, all the good stuff that put Donegal on the back foot, stopped. The Rebels became slow and static and lateral.
Into the second half it remained the same. Cork began to hit aimless ball down on top of Neil McGee. It didn't work for Kerry. It didn't work for them and if Dublin or Mayo try it, it won't work for them either. Conor Counihan said after the match that he felt his men panicked. That kind of ball backs up the assertion. A lot of us – a majority I would imagine – over-rated this Cork team and underrated the football ability of th is Donegal outfit. They're disciplined and work like dogs and all that. They've also got a touch of class about them. Don't forget that.