Walsh backs Cork's strength in depth to sink Ulster champs
By Kieran McCarthy
CORK midfielder Aidan Walsh believes that the Rebels’ strength in depth will be their trump card in their All-Ireland senior football championship semi-final against Donegal in Croke Park on Sunday week.
So much has been made of the strength of the Cork substitutes’ bench so far this season, with Paddy Kelly, Daniel Goulding and Pearse O’Neill all drafted in at different stages against Mayo in the All-Ireland quarter-final to huge effect.
In the games before that, when both Graham Canty and Paddy Kelly had to miss the Munster final against Clare through injury, Eoin Cotter and Fintan Goold started instead, and both made an impact that day.
And even in the first game against Kerry, the Munster semi-final, both Goold and Pearse O’Neill had to withdraw before the game injured, but in their place stepped Ciarán Sheehan and Nicholas Murphy, again highlighting the calibre of players that Cork can call on.
With this in mind, Young Footballer of the Year Walsh believes that this strength in depth is the ace up Cork’s sleeve ahead of the big semi-final against Donegal.
‘We have a big strong team and we move the ball well but our big attribute is the strength of our team. We have 20 to 25 players who are all capable of coming on and making a difference. That will stand to us, and it has in every game so far,’ Walsh told The Southern Star.
‘It’s definitely something that will come into the game on Sunday week, that whoever comes on has the potential to make a big difference. Whoever starts, if there is only 40 or 50 minutes in them then so be it, they have to give it everything when they’re out on the pitch, and whoever comes in will have to do the same thing.’
While Cork beat Donegal with a bit to spare in the ’09 All-Ireland quarter-final in Croke Park, a lot has changed since then, with Donegal now the most improved team in the country with their much-debated style certain to take centre stage again next week in the build-up to the game.
Having watched what the Ulster side did to Kerry in their quarter-final victory, Walsh is under no illusions as to what lies ahead on Sunday week.
‘It’s a massive challenge for Cork. Donegal have brought a new style of football to the game, it seems to be going very well for them, they are having success and they have that style down to a tee as well,’ the Kanturk man said.
‘If you play into their hands, then they will turn you over. In the next week or so in training we will have to work hard. Hopefully on Sunday week we will play to our potential and let’s see how things go.’
But Walsh personally can’t wait to run out onto the Croke Park turf to take on this new force in Gaelic football, as he sees this as a new challenge for Conor Counihan’s men.
With Donegal the talk of the championship and so much focus on their style of play, the Cork midfielder admits that it’s exciting to be involved in a big game like this, and remembering the hurt of last year’s disappointing All-Ireland quarter-final exit to Mayo, he is adamant that the Rebels won’t make the same mistake twice.
‘This is an All-Ireland semi-final and you only meet the best teams in the country here, so if you don’t play to the top of your game here then you are going to be found out,’ Walsh said.
‘We will have to be on our toes. But this is a challenge to us. Everybody is talking about Donegal at the moment.
They are a new team on the block, in many ways, so there is plenty of noise about them, particularly the style they play. But these are the teams that you want to play against and you want to perform against.
‘You need to beat the best if you want to win an All-Ireland, and they have won back-to-back Ulster titles and now have beaten Kerry as well.
‘We are looking forward to it and we just want to drive on now, especially after losing last year in the quarter-final to Mayo. We are determined not to make the same mistakes again this season.’
And in the build-up to this All-Ireland semi-final on Sunday week, Cork have received backing in their quest for All-Ireland glory from an unusual source, as Kerry footballer Darran O’Sullivan has lauded his Munster neighbours as the best team in the country and has also tipped them to defeat Donegal.
Having played against both counties this season – losing to Cork in the Munster semi-final and losing to Donegal in the All-Ireland quarter-final – O’Sullivan is in a better position that most to judge these two All-Ireland semi-finalists, with Cork getting the nod.
‘I have talked to a few of the boys about this and it’s a hard one to call but I think that Cork are the strongest team out there at the moment,’ the Kerry footballer said.
‘They are very athletic but what most teams don’t have is that amount of footballers that they have. Their panel is very strong at the moment.
‘They are the only team who can do both, they can do the running game and they can do the kicking game. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Donegal win but if I was to put money on it, it would be on Cork.’