Southern Star Ltd. logo
Premium Exclusives

JOHN HAYES: Cork know another big performance is needed to back up brilliant Donegal win

June 6th, 2024 6:00 AM

By Southern Star Team

JOHN HAYES: Cork know another big performance is needed to back up brilliant Donegal win Image
Mattie Taylor shoots past Donegal goalkeeper Shaun Patton to score Cork's opening goal in the brilliant win against Donegal at Páirc Uí Rinn. (Photo: George Hatchell)

Share this article

SOMETIMES it’s just bloody wonderful to be wrong, and I got it wrong in tipping a win for Donegal last week.

Predictions are a tricky business. My heart will always say Cork, however coldly looking at the form of both teams and the league meeting in particular left me with only one conclusion: Cork had closed the gap but not by enough to stall the Jimmy McGuinness green and gold steam train. Instead, Cork fans were treated to a 3-9 to 0-16 win that now guarantees knock-out football.

Cork football is on the move and certainly faster than my trip to Páirc Uí Rinn on Saturday. Tight for time, as I was coming back from the south-east, getting stuck behind the Carlow to Cork tractor run wasn’t on my wish-list. Once I got to the ground, I settled behind the fence underneath the floodlight inside the gate for the first half.

What might have been somewhat cagey early stages eventually blossomed into an interesting and entertaining first half. Donegal 2.0 under McGuiness have evolved to a team that does get numbers behind the ball but has a 15-man offence when possession is regained. They leave more gaps behind than during his first reign when men like Neil McGee would stay and mind the house while Lacey and McHugh et al ventured forward. Cork got great joy from big turnovers when Donegal were attacking.

One thing we did get right last week was that Cork would drop to around the halfway line before applying the pressure on the Donegal carriers. Several times Cork effected big tackles to dispossess the Ulster men before launching counter attacks into the ocean of space behind. The Matty Taylor first-half goal was the most glaring example: one good Sean Powter tackle on Ryan McHugh and one quick handpass to Taylor put the Mallow man into the Donegal half with nothing but green grass and a retreating Shaun Patton in front of him. Great credit to Matty for the powerful carry and composed finish, when so many with so much time would have lost their nerve. Taylor is starting to get the credit he deserved for several seasons of consistency in a Cork jersey, moving into the bracket of some of the great attacking wing backs we have had in recent years, like Ciarán O’Sullivan, Owen Sexton or Johnny Miskella.

Chris Óg Jones snaffled two points from turnovers also with one big goal chance included after a Brian O’Driscoll break through the Donegal defence. Cork had other opportunities also and could have gone close at least to doubling their first half tally of 1-4, however the bad habit of spurning good chances was apparent again. Brian Hurley and Colm O’Callaghan could each have goaled, while Tommy Walsh, O’Driscoll and Mark Cronin were all guilty of leaving point chances go abegging. When Donegal found some of their groove in the run up to half time, we wondered if it would prove another day of regret for Cork football.

In the early stages the main threat from Donegal came from Paddy McBrearty and his ability to cut through the Cork defence, and the now veteran forward would end with seven points, including four from play. That tally would have included a goal also but for a brilliant tip-over save by Chris Kelly in the first half. McBrearty’s team-mates came to the party in the latter stages of the second half and some of Donegal’s inter-play was superb to watch. Oisin Gallen kicked one peach of a score from just in front of me, and while Paul Walsh converted a similar beauty at the other end, Donegal finished the stronger side and turned a three-point deficit into a two-point lead, 0-9 to 1-4, going in at half time.

Cork captain Brian Hurley breaks away from Donegal's Brendan McHale at Páirc Uí Rinn. (Photo: George Hatchell)

While Cork flourished in the counter-attacking game, Donegal looked to have the greater ability to unlock the massed ranks in the Cork backline. Donegal were happy to give the ball to players in the central channels with the support runners showing great pace and variety to the angles of their runs to open up the Cork rearguard.

Cork’s slower build-ups tend to see almost everyone empty the danger areas in front of goal to head for the wings, and we are slower and more predictable as a result. Something for the management team and squad to target and improve on for the coming games as opponents won’t always be so generous with possession and the space left behind. In fact, after this reverse and seeing similar things happen to Derry the following day, I wonder will we see a reversion to more defensive caution in the coming games. Big scores are being coughed up across the board right now, and I would be surprised if that was allowed to continue.

Donegal’s lead wasn’t to last too long into the second half. At half-time, I bumped into Eoin Cadogan and a certain Cian O’Neill who was a very keen observer from behind the goal where Cork would attack for the second half. I thought I’d try to pick the brains of the current Galway coach and so I relocated there for the remainder of the game where I had the pleasure of seeing Cork rattle in two quick-fire goals that would essentially win the game for Cork in the end.

The first came from a good Kelly kick-out to Maurice Shanley, with midfield partners Ian Maguire and Colm O’Callaghan also involved before Sean Powter billowed the net. Almost immediately another turnover, this time from Brian Hurley, ended with a goalmouth scramble that broke kindly for Rory Maguire to palm home. Hurley added a point from a free and Cork were five up and well in charge. The biggest criticism of the performance last Saturday is that Cork failed to manage the game after another point from O’Callaghan restored the five-point cushion with 46 minutes on the clock.

From here, Cork allowed Donegal back into the contest with a series of unforced errors, particularly in attack. Sean Powter, playing with renewed confidence after his goal and assist, was forced off injured after 44 minutes. Conor Corbett came on in his place and, unfortunately, nothing would go right for the young Clyda Rovers man after his introduction. Perhaps this was a game more suited to the experience and ball-winning of Ruairi Deane than the talented, but coltish, Corbett. Cork went nearly 20 minutes without a score and Donegal drew level as some of their under-performing stars finally found their range, with substitute Aaron Doherty levelling the game as added time loomed. Again, the betting man would have piled on the form team in the country at this juncture, and it looked like it would be another day of what might have been for Cork fans.

Uncharacteristically, big players like McHugh and the strangely quiet Peadar Mogan combined poor decisions with poor execution to let Cork off the hook, and Chris Kelly and the Cork backs claimed shots dropped short and poor kick passes with glee. Steven Sherlock made Donegal pay with a fine point after the otherwise impressive Caolan McGonagle was penalised for over-carrying.

Donegal pushed for an equaliser to maintain their unbeaten season but fell short with their efforts and Colm O’Callaghan, who had a great second half, fisted over to make certain the Cork win. Cue the final whistle and the first Cork football supporters pitch invasion in many a day. Generally, I feel the pitch invasions are being a little overdone these days, however Cork football needed the positivity. Even the heavy traffic and getting stuck behind the very same tractor run on the way into Ballinhassig couldn’t dampen my good mood, this was one of the good days and I was going to enjoy it.

Now that the dust has settled, thoughts turn to what lies ahead. There is now a different expectation ahead of the final group game against Tyrone, who did what Cork couldn’t do against Clare in claiming a comfortable 14-point victory. The expectation is that Donegal will bounce back and do something similar, therefore Cork will need to get a result against Tyrone to claim top spot and go straight to a quarter-final and most likely avoid the likes of Dublin and Kerry until a semi-final at least. Defeat will most likely leave Cork in third place on scoring difference if ourselves, Tyrone and Donegal were to finish on four points.

Consistency has been an elusive mistress for Cork football teams in recent times, and the squad will know another big performance is required to maintain the momentum and back up the Donegal win. To be fair, it does feel like Cork are a more organised unit than when John Cleary took over, and the team know now how to deliver championship performances. Cork will play knockout Sam Maguire football again this year and beating Tyrone would bring an All-Ireland semi-final very realistically into view. Things are getting serious now.

Share this article