Cork boss Counihan admits comfortable run to date not ideal for Donegal challenge
At the Cork football press evening ahead of Sunday's All-Ireland football semi-final with Donegal, manager Conor Counihan was asked about hunger.
Last year, the Rebels' desire didn't seem to be as strong following the 2010 All-Ireland win and they were eliminated at the quarter-final stage by Mayo. He admitted that, while he hoped the appetite for success had returned this year, he did not know as his side had not been sufficiently tested, including in the quarter-final win over Kildare.
"Maybe this box wasn't ticked and that box wasn't ticked, whereas now you'd like to think you're ticking most of the boxes," he said.
"The real test of that comes when things get really tight and to date this year that hasn't really happened.
"When you come back from a holiday in the middle of January it's hard to make up ground, focus has shifted and that sort of thing, from that point of view, yeah, we're in a better place.
"That would be a disappointment, if the Kildare game was tighter and tougher we'd be in a happier place, you'd know exactly, if push came to shove, where you were at."
A stiffer challenge is almost a certainty against the Ulster champions on Sunday and, having stayed on to watch Donegal against Kerry following the Kildare win, Counihan knows that it will be a test of his side's nous.
"They're very strong, they set themselves up in a line and it's very hard to break down," he said.
"You have to think around it.
"The sheer numbers and the way they set themselves up, you don't see the full extent of that on the television."
Donegal's defensive style means that even attackers are called upon to help out at the back, with Mark McHugh having been very impressive in a deep role despite, ostensibly, being a wing-forward.
Kerry found this out in the quarter-final, when McHugh's marker Killian Young was replaced by an attacker in Darran O'Sullivan.
Counihan is naturally eager that his side are not left in the reactive position of responding to Donegal, but rather instead trying to create the initiative themselves.
"You have to be careful that they don't set the terms, you try to set your own terms," he said.
"That's one of the big challenges. Their whole set-up is quite good, their defensive strengths are well-known, they don't concede big scores and they get enough then to get over the line in terms of scores at the other end.
"There's a good balance, a good team effort and a good plan which they believe in."
In 2009, Cork blitzed Donegal at the quarter-final stage, triumphing by 1-27 to 2-10, and a repeat of that is not likely.
Donegal's transformation under Jim McGuinness has been a key factor in that, but Counihan says that that result was nowhere near a true reflection of the teams' 2009 capabilities.
"When you look back at 2009," he said, "teams can be in different places on a particular day, not even in a particular year.
"On that day, they weren't in a good place and I'd say we were in a particularly good place, so the gap is big then."
In Cork's two most recent matches, however, against Clare in the Munster final and Kildare in the All-Ireland quarter-final, they have had comfortable wins, meaning that it is over two months since their last close match, the Munster semi-final against Kerry.
Counihan knows that it is not an ideal situation. "There is an element of that in it." he added.
And, even though the match against Kildare ended in a 2-19 to 0-12 win, the manager was not entirely happy with the performance.
"I'd be the first to admit that that performance wasn't our finest hour.
"We performed well early on and then fell asleep, we got back on top and they had a man sent off.
"I don't think, by Kildare's standards, that they played well. If they had and we had won by two or three points, I'd be much happier, but I don't think they played particularly well."