New Cork model passes first big Croke Park test
Cork 4-11 Donegal 0-19 Allianz FL Division 1 Semi-final
The scoreline says it all about the texture of a game that entertained but didn’t really nourish.
When you see Donegal conceding four goals, you know there’s something amiss. Indeed, Cork came close to scoring at least two more goals on a day when Donegal’s defensive system misfired in a manner not seen since the 2013 All-Ireland quarter-final against Mayo.
The reasons, apparently, had both a physical and mental dimension.
Donegal’s training plan has Sunday, May 17 inked in red as they work towards being in peak condition for the Ulster SFC clash with Tyrone.
The heavy work for that big assignment took its toll in the final quarter yesterday and once the game began to run away from them, they appeared to switch off mentally, allowing Cork to bolt into their fourth league final in six seasons.
Donegal manager Rory Gallagher conceded that minds may have been elsewhere, which probably caused the many defensive malfunctions that undermined them.
“We came here to win the game, but we’re in a different situation to Cork (later start in the championship). Our guys’ legs couldn’t have been fresh today. It took its toll in the second half. We weren’t geared to peak for a game today. We’re out in a must-win game in Ulster on May 17,” he said.
Still it wasn’t that Donegal didn’t have their chance to make life a whole lot more difficult for Cork. Colm McFadden had an excellent goal chance in the ninth minute but was thwarted by Cork goalkeeper Ken O’Halloran, who made an excellent save.
“If Colm had put his chance away, it would have opened up a bit of a gap and who knows what might have happened after that,” said Gallagher.
O’Halloran made another crucial intervention in the 50th minute, saving from Paddy McBrearty, when a goal would have brought the sides level. Seven minutes later, Colm O’Neill scored Cork’s fourth goal, effectively ending the game as a contest. The tempo dropped in the final ten minutes, which were played in challenge-game mode.
While Cork manager Brian Cuthbert was pleased with many facets of his team’s performance, there were worrying aspects too, which will require attention for the final against Dublin and later in the championship.
“We took some good scores, but we conceded 19 points which isn’t pleasing,” he said.
It suggests that Cork’s more security-conscious approach isn’t quite fully refined yet, as there were times when a little more precision in Donegal’s movement would have yielded a much higher dividend.
After being hit for an average of 1-21 by Dublin (league semi-final), Kerry and Mayo (championship) last season, Cork are beefing up their defensive ramparts this year. A clear example of the new system was provided by Mark Collins, nominally their full-forward, but whose tour of duty took him all over the pitch.
Rarely has a No 14 jersey been spotted so far away from its traditional siting as Collins often tracked back as far as his full-back line. It’s a demanding role, but he carried it out very efficiently. The other Cork forwards didn’t come quite as deep but they were happy to funnel out towards midfield quite regularly.
So it’s a new Cork style, Brian?
Cuthbert smiles, before explaining the rationale behind the game-plan.
“I suppose Cork would have been looked on as a free-flowing team over the years, when they were at their best, but the game has moved on. Most teams are now defensive in nature, and every team has a different system. In the seven league games we played, we came up against seven different systems.
“It’s pleasing for us to do so well against Donegal, who are the architects of this in many ways. We were able to open them a few times today. But, we conceded 19 points, so we obviously have plenty of work to do.
“Ken (O’Halloran) had to make two great saves and if either of those had gone in it could have been a different game. They were at crucial times in the game. But the overall feeling is we’re happy with the progress, we’ll keep our heads down and work away,” he said.
The next test will be provided by Dublin, who were the first to show up Cork’s flaws last year when they wiped out a 10-point deficit and won by seven points in the league semi-final.
Cork won’t leave themselves as exposed on Sunday week, but whether they will be able to neutralise Dublin remains to be seen. It will certainly be a tougher proposition than yesterday’s test.
Donegal did very well for much of the first half, opening up a four-point lead after 15 minutes and enjoying a three-point advantage 10 minutes later.
Cork had pounced for their first goal in the 18th minute when corner-back, Tom Clancy was played in by Colm O’Neill. It was so simple that one got the distinct impression Donegal’s minds just weren’t on the job.
It was level at half-time (Cork 1-8 Donegal 0-11), but by the 43rd minute into the second half, the picture had altered dramatically.
Goals by O’Neill and Brian Hurley sent Donegal six points clear, leaving Donegal with a massive challenge. They responded well, paring three points off the deficit in three minutes but when O’Halloran saved from McBrearty, it seemed to knock the heart out of Donegal.
“The heads went down a wee bit after that,” said Gallagher.
More accurately, thoughts turned to the Ulster Championship, leaving Cork to freewheel into the league final.
“The more times we play in Croke Park the better it suits us. It’s important that when we get here we perform,” said Cuthbert.
Scorers – Cork: C O’Neill 2-2 (1f); B Hurley 1-1, F Goold 0-4, Tom Clancy 1-0; J O’Rourke, C Dorman, C O’Driscoll, M Shields 0-1 each. Donegal: M Murphy 0-8 (3f, 2 ’45s), P McBrearty 0-4 (1f),C McFadden, M McElhinney 0-2 each, K Lacey, O MacNiallais, A Thompson 0-1 each.
Cork – K O’Halloran 8; Tom Clancy 7, M Shields 7, J Loughrey 7; C Dorman 7, Brian O’Driscoll 7, Tomas Clancy 7; E Cadogan 7, F Goold 9; C O’Driscoll 6, J O’Rourke 7, K O’Driscoll 6; C O’Neill 8, M Collins 7, B Hurley 7. Subs: P Kerrigan 6 for Shields (54); D Goulding 6 for K O’Driscoll (60); Barry O’Driscoll for Brian O’Driscoll (64); J Hayes for Hurley (67); D Og Hodnett for O’Rourke (68).
Donegal – M Boyle 7; P McGrath 6, N McGee 6, E McGee 6; F McGlynn 6, K Lacey 7, A Thompson 6; M McElhinney 7, O MacNiallais 7; E McHugh 6, H McFadden 6, R McHugh 6; P McBrearty 8, M Murphy 7, C McFadden 6. Subs: E Doherty 6 for Thompson (40); M O’Reilly 6 for E McHugh (46); C Toye 6 for McGrath (49); S Griffin 5 for C McFadden (60); D McLaughlin for H McFadden (64).
Ref – Marty Duffy (Sligo)