Tomorrow, Croke Park, 3.30pm, (Ref: David Coldrick, Meath)
Latest from the medics and management…Cork have made just the one change with Patrick Kelly returning to their attacking line-up instead of Ciaran Sheehan.
CORK SF: Alan Quirke (Valley Rovers): Ray Carey (Clyda Rovers), Michael Shields (St Finbars), Eoin Cadogan (Douglas); Paudie Kissane (Clyda Rovers), Graham Canty (Bantry Blues), Noel O Leary (Cill na Martra): Alan O’Connor (St. Colum’s) Aidan Walsh (Kanturk); Fintan Goold (Macroom), Patrick Kelly (Ballincollig), Paul Kerrigan (Nemo Rangers); Colm O Neill (Ballyclough) Donncha O’Connor (Ballydesmond), Nicholas Murphy (Carrigaline).
Donegal are yet to announce their team.
DONEGAL SF: TBC
Checking the odds…Cork are 4/6 favorites with Donegal priced at 13/8 and a draw available at 15/2.
Clues from the form guide…Having successfully journeyed through Ulster from the preliminary round stage again this year and issued a notable statement of intent by taking down Kerry in the All-Ireland quarter-final, Donegal’s form demonstrates that they are in a buoyant mood. Their scoring totals indicate that they are expressing themselves more in an attacking sense this year, a trait that was needed after they honed in on defensive play last season.
Toppling Kerry was an impressive feat yet they did look rattled when the Kingdom launched a late comeback, were grateful for an early fortuitous goal from Colm McFadden which gave them a cushion on the scoreboard and the loss of Bryan Sheehan was a big blow to Kerry as they were robbed of a recognized free taker. Karl Lacey’s late relieving point was the key score.
Cork’s Karl Lacey and Paudie Kissane of Donegal in action earlier this year. Pic: INPHO/Kieran Murray
Cork’s quarter-final against Kildare featured plenty of pre-match talk about whether their long period of inactivity would count against them. Those fears proved misguided as they blew the Lilywhites away with an awesome phase of play in the second-half. They were similarly grateful at hitting the net early on to settle their challenge and the sending-off of Kildare’s Eoin Doyle was crucial in enabling gaps to open for the Cork attack to exploit.
They may be worried about the lack of a gut-wrenching test this summer to prepare themselves for this match and they switched off noticeably for a period before half-time against Kildare. Yet their form was so impressive in the second-half of that game, that they must be confident now.
The game breakers are…Donegal’s strength this year has been the ease and pace at which they switch from defence to attack. In that regard stifling the influences of Frank McGlynn and Karl Lacey is critical for Cork as that duo are the platform for some of Donegal’s best moves. Cork also must devise a way of limiting the impact of Mark McHugh and it will be interesting if they push a player up on him to prevent him executing his sweeper role effectively. Given that Michael Murphy and Patrick McBrearty are withdrawn from goal in games, it will be key to curb the scoring threat of Colm McFadden as well after he has increased his output this season.
Cork will pose significant questions for Donegal. Their midfield is a powerful partnership and on the evidence of the Kerry match, Aidan Walsh in particular can dominate Donegal in this sector. Cork’s attack may not get plenty room to express themselves but they can now call on the guile of Patrick Kelly and as Kerry’s Anthony Maher showed, kicking long-range points is a successful method against the Ulster champions. In Colm O’Neill and Donncha O’Connor, Cork have a couple of fine long-range shooters. Cork’s bench is also a strong unit while their ability to convert frees could also be significant.
Gazing into the crystal ball…In 2009 there was uncertainty over whether Cork could cope with the unique challenge that Tyrone presented in that year’s All-Ireland semi-final. Yet they responded excellently and rose to the task of producing the necessary levels of aggression and physicality. Tomorrow is something similar in that they are faced with another new test. Donegal have been magnificent this year and their well-drilled system will be difficult to break down. Thus it is vital that Cork hold their nerve if they are struggling to get on top.
They have the capacity to do that. If Donegal are not allowed to get ahead on the scoreboard early on, it may cast doubts in their minds and a strong start is vital for Cork. Achieve that and they have the greater big game experience and are more seasoned than their opponents. They have a couple of potent substitute weapons that they can unleash as well and just like 2009, Cork can rise to the challenge in what is likely to be a low-scoring war of attrition.
Join TheScore.ie live from Croke Park tomorrow for minute-by-minute coverage of all the action between Cork and Donegal.
Conor Deegan: “Two juggernauts are going to crash into each other in Croke Park on Sunday. It’s going to be fascinating.”