THREE GAMES DOWN, two to go.
That’s the simplistic view of the task facing Conor Counihan’s Cork over the coming 32 days. Of course, that extended month could quickly be curtailed to five if Donegal get their way.
Counihan leads his side – one of the four unbeaten football teams in the country – into Croke Park this Sunday where they will meet the Ulster Champions.
They met under similar circumstance in the 2009 quarter-final. But Counihan knows; though the green and gold jersey looks the same, it’s a very different Donegal nowadays. The Aghada man quickly brushes talk of that 1-27 to 2-10 dismantling aside, saying the teams were merely in different ‘places’.
Counihan pays just as little attention to this year’s quarter-final, when Kildare were put to the sword. Many teams can only dream about making it to an All Ireland semi-final, Counihan seems slightly unnerved by the comfortable winning margins since overcoming Kerry.
“That would be a disappointment,” Counihan said on the issue, “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.”
Push will certainly come to something more than a shove after half three on Sunday. Counihan though, is well versed in what Jim McGuinness will unleash upon the Rebels having taken up a seat in the Hogan Stand to watch the 1-12 to 1-10 win over Kerry.
There are many sides he would have been content to examine on screen. Donegal are a different animal, a sprawling inter-linking entity with an ability to move as one as well as 14. Counihan was glad of the chance to get a bird’s eye view of them in the flesh.
The sheer numbers and the way they set themselves up, you don’t see the full extent of that on the television. That’s the big thing. The camera will only capture so much.” He said, adding: “They’re very strong, they set themselves up in a line and it’s very hard to break down.”
‘We fell asleep’
One thing is certain despite their relatively comfortable march to the final four: Counihan must ensure Cork considerably ramp up the work-rate and intensity from their previous outings.
“I’d be the first to admit that that performance wasn’t our finest hour.” He says.
“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.”
Cork will have to hit their full potential to overcome then men from the north west.