Sharpshooting Rebels set sights on last-four spot
Cork 0-12 Donegal 0-10
Cork scored seven unanswered points in the second half to get the better of Donegal at Pairc Ui Rinn and claim a third successive league win.
When Michael Murphy put Donegal 0-7 to 0-5 in front eight minutes into the second half, the All-Ireland champions looked like strong favourites to prevail, especially as Cork were without star attacker Colm O'Neill, stretchered off in the first half with a suspected cruciate ligament injury – which would be his third time to suffer such an unfortunate setback.
A marked improvement from the hosts saw them reel in their opponents, however, with seven points necklaced together for a 0-12 to 0-7 lead before Donegal rallied – ultimately unsuccessfully – late on. The win leaves Cork with six points ahead of next week's trip to Kerry, with a home match against Mayo completing their programme on April 7.
From facing the possibility of relegation after early defeats to Dublin and Kildare, the Rebels are now looking upwards and again entertaining notions of finishing in the top four and reaching the knockout stages. However, manager Conor Counihan and his selectors will know that it was far from a perfect performance, especially in the first half. Cork were limited to just three points – two of those fine efforts by O'Neill prior to his 16th-minute injury – and Barry O'Driscoll stroked over a nice effort from the left.
Those scores had helped Cork to come into the game after Donegal started strongly, with Murphy and Colm McFadden showing up well, but the visitors couldn't take advantage of the Rebels' lack of attacking thrust after O'Neill's departure, with Dermot Molloy's point all that they could muster for a two-point lead at the break.
The Ulster side were playing with a bit more nous than Cork, who, while defending well, found it difficult to make progress once they reached the 45-metre line.
Goal attempts were not frequent, Donegal coming the closest when Neil McGee tried to play in Murphy but Jamie O'Sullivan was alert and cleared the danger.
The early stages of the second half were even, though twice Cork goalkeeper Ken O'Halloran had to deny Ross Wherity. Cork slowly began to get on top, however, and points from Collins and Shorten had them level.
Poor shooting prevented them from going ahead, but eventually Andrew O'Sullivan fisted over after a good move, and the lead was augmented by scores from Shorten, Aidan Walsh, Paudie Kissane and Collins to leave them five in front with five minutes of normal time left.
Donegal didn't throw in the towel, though. A Murphy free and a '45' by McFadden had them back to within a goal, and Murphy might have conjured a maximum when put through only to be fouled by Eoin Cadogan. McFadden put the resultant free over, but no other chances presented themselves and Cork took the points.
Donegal manager Jim McGuinness had few complaints about the outcome and pinpointed the second-half swing in momentum as key.
"We came out at the start of the second half leading by 0-5 to 0-3 but then Cork outscored us 0-9 to 0-2 and that was the defining period," he said.
"In fairness, they showed great resolve and kept going until the end, created a couple of scoring opportunities and there were just two points in it at the end."
Man of the match: E Cadogan (Cork)
Scorers – Cork: P Kissane, C O'Neill, M Collins, L Shorten 0-2 each, B O'Driscoll, A Walsh, A O'Sullivan, P Kerrigan 0-1 each. Donegal: M Murphy 0-5 (4f, 1 '45'), C McFadden 0-3 (2f, 1 '45'), P McBrearty, D Molloy 0-1 each.
CORK – K O'Halloran 8; J O'Sullivan 7, M Shields 8, E Cadogan 9; T Clancy 6, N O'Leary 6, P Kissane 7; G Canty 6, A Walsh 8; A O'Sullivan 7, F Goold 6, M Collins 8; B O'Driscoll 6, C O'Neill 7, P Kerrigan 7. Subs: L Shorten 7 for O'Neill (18, injured), D O'Connor 6 for Goold (45), A O'Connor 6 for J O'Sullivan (61), E O'Mahony 6 for Canty (65), D Goulding 6 for A O'Sullivan (70).
DONEGAL – P Durcan 6; P McGrath 6, N McGee 7, E McGee 6; D Walsh 6, F McGlynn 7, L McLoone 7; R Kavanagh 6, M Murphy 8; R Bradley 6, P McBrearty 6, R Wherity 7; D Molloy 6, C McFadden 7, N Gallagher 8. Subs: M McElhinney 6 for Molloy, R McHugh 6 for Wherity (both 53).
Ref – D Coldrick (Meath).