Just one more obstacle remains for the Messiah’s men on September 23rd and after yesterday’s fantastic display you couldn’t bet against this Donegal team clearing it.
Despite the excellent form of the team in this year’s championship, when they have done absolutely everything asked of them and more, they still came into this game as underdogs. That didn’t bother the team one bit and indeed the potential favourites tag in the final wont either.
Almost every media preview in the lead up to the game sided with the Munster champions and so the team had to once again remind everyone just how good they are.
It was helter skelter stuff to begin with, scores coming at both ends and a good pace to the game. Both sides moved the ball well and the accuracy from the teams ensured a high scoring opening period.
Michael Murphy and Colm McFadden were both targeted with long ball early on and while there wasn’t a high number of scores coming off this ploy, it only has to work once for the net to bulge. While that didn’t happen the support runners coming through were able to pick off points with the likes of Karl Lacey and David Walsh profiting.
Lacey was again magnificent and even showed his singing skills by giving us a quick blast of Jimmy’s Winning Matches during his on-field interview after the game. What was noticeable in that interview was how remarkably fresh Lacey looked; after playing the type of running game he does it would be more natural for someone to be struggling to stand. Yet he trotted of the pitch after that interview the same way he trotted on at the start of the match and it gives us another insight into the fitness levels attained by this panel of players.
Mark McHugh had a quiet opening to the game but once he started to get on the ball he dictated the game as only he can. So much of the pre-match build up had focused on what Cork would try to do to nullify him but for the last 50 minutes of the game he swept and carried as he has done all year and no-one could get near him.
As has happened in every outing this year the effort and energy expended by the opposition in trying to attack Donegal early on meant that when the blue touch paper was lit in the second half there was only one winner. The key ingredient in the winning of all Donegal’s matches this year has been the period after half time when the team raises their intensity and pummel their opponents with devastating raids and a relentless scoring rate.
Cork’s players and their manager admitted afterwards that they lost the tactical battle but in truth Jim is always a step ahead of his rivals in that regard. Cork’s trump card centred on starting wing forward Ciaran Sheehan instead of corner back Ray Carey resulting in them playing with five defenders and seven attackers, although Fintan Goold dropped back to the half back line at times. It worked to a point in that Sheehan himself did well and got on the score sheet but overall their shape and setup didn’t bother Donegal.
In much the same way that Donegal play, it doesn’t matter who attacks or who defends so long as someone does; it didn’t matter that Cork had an extra attacker because he was simply another man that had to be stopped, had to be tackled and had to be dispossessed regardless of the number on his back or what position he plays.
Neil Gallagher gave an exhibition in old-fashioned midfield play, making several clean catches and outplaying the much vaunted ‘big men’ of Cork. Throughout the week, the physicality and size of the Cork side was viewed by many as a key advantage that would lead them to victory yet Big Neil set the tone in the middle of the field and was deservedly given the man of the match award. Alan Quirke was eventually forced to look for short kickouts such was the dominance of the Glenswilly man.
The high fielding midfielder is one facet of the game that pundits lament about not seeing very often in these days of modern football but there was plenty of it illustrated yesterday.
Another of the modern ills is of course the hand pass and Donegal are the prime target from the purists in this regard. At one stage in the first half yesterday the RTE website commentary displayed a statistic showing that Cork had hand passed the ball 100 times compared to Donegal’s 30; by the end of the game Cork out-hand passed us by 250 to 170.
Almost all teams play in a similar way nowadays, the difference is that Jim McGuinness has taken the style that brought Tyrone three All-Ireland titles and almost perfected it - how perfect it is can only be judged in four weeks time.
Now the chance is there for his team to claim their title and he immediately got the player’s heads focused by saying that the next four weeks will be the most enjoyable of their lives. Jim is always thinking of what’s coming next and even in the aftermath and the euphoria of the win he was getting down to business.
For the supporters, before the ticket scramble begins in earnest, it’ll be satisfying being able to sit back and enjoy this Sunday’s second semi final waiting to see who’s next up to try and stop the Donegal juggernaut.
After the terrific day we had yesterday it was all put in perspective with the tragic news about Termon GAA player Andrew Duffy, who lost his life after falling into the Grand Canal in Phibsboro after attending the game at Croker. Thoughts and prayers go out to his family.
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.