It’s time to see what Donegal are really made of

Cork’s strong bench should give them the edge in an intense contest, says PA?idAi?? A? SAi??

It seems like the All-Ireland endgame has crept up out of nowhere and that’s probably because here in Kerry we’ve had our own little sideshow for the last few weeks. We have been busy looking for a new manager and over the last few days things have become a little clearer as it appears that Eamonn Fitzmaurice is set to take the job.

It looks like Eamonn will be supported by Seamus Moynihan and Mikey Sheehy, two Kerry legends who are a perfect fit for this set-up. There was a lot of thought put into the selection and I think the right decisions are being made. Eamonn is regarded as a conservative guy, he keeps things simple, he likes to keep the ball in the middle of the field and play football. He knows the Kerry way.

He’s equipped himself well with the men he’s brought in. Mikey will offer experience and direction. We soldiered for many years and won eight All-Irelands together. There is very little that man doesn’t know about winning Celtic Cross medals.

Seamus will get the lads up for games and instill the passion that’s needed to go all the way. I trained him to two All-Ireland medals and he was more than just a player. The leadership he showed that time was immense. He had a special way of getting lads motivated and a shout from him could change the flow of a game. The combination of those three men will be a force to be reckoned with.

So now that the Kerry job has been sorted out it’s back to the small matter of today’s semi-final between Cork and Donegal.

It’s a contest I’m looking forward to because I think it’s going to be the first time this championship that Donegal will be properly tested. I want to see what they are made of. They have reached this stage without having to over-exert themselves too much; in fact they have never had to chase a game. If Cork go a few points up will Jim McGuinness have a Plan B and if so will we actually get to see a full-on game of football?

Donegal need a big game out of their captain Michael Murphy. He’s been tiptoeing around a performance all season but hasn’t really pulled one off. McGuinness has a lot of faith in the big youngster but he needs to get moving and scoring soon before the season passes him by.

Come to think of it Donegal will struggle to find scorers if Murphy doesn’t turn it on. They have the excellent Colm McFadden inside but if the Cork backs decide to stay put and not engage the blanket defence tactic that McGuinness is so fond of then McFadden will be isolated inside with two or three Cork backs for company. Rather him than me.

Up until now Donegal had the luxury of being able to grind out games by being the fitter, more organised side. However, they will meet their match in that area today. Donegal will more than likely keep it tight — they don’t make a habit of conceding goals but they have yet to deal with forwards who have skill and speed in abundance and are on-form too.

One wrong move by their back three and Colm O’Neill or Donncha O’Connor will have the ball in the back of the net. No amount of pressure or perseverance can prevent that.

When a team draws Donegal a new dimension of preparation immediately comes into play. How a county lays out their team is paramount.

There are several different scenarios that could play out but for me the most important one is whether or not Conor Counihan decides to put a marker on Mark McHugh. For all the games so far this season, he’s been a free man, sitting amidst the backs, sweeping up the loose ball and ultimately dictating the pace of the game. I’ve thought long and hard about this and I’m interested to see how they will deal with him. It’s possible they could send Noel O’Leary in to do the job or go with the audacious move of getting a forward like maybe Paddy Kelly to shadow McHugh or alternatively just let him roam free. Whatever happens, it will be worth monitoring.

Cork will certainly face a lot of challenges if they want to make the final. For the first time this year they will have to deal with a full set of scoring backs. The likes of Karl Lacey and Frank McGlynn get on the scoresheet more often than not. Donegal’s attacking threat comes from behind the play not in front and that is something Cork need to be prepared for.

Until now Counihan’s men have been in cruise control and it’s easy to understand why. Their panel is brimming with talent, they have reserves for their reserves. Unlike last year, they have their entire squad fully fit at the right time; I know from training teams how hard it is to be motoring well come the business end of the championship. They are peaking when you need to.

Being in top form is great if you are going out playing a team who will let you play football. Today Cork will need to play clever, use their power, draw the tackle, get the free when they can’t get within the scoring zone and not be fazed by the intensity that they bring. They’ll also need to be ready for whatever Donegal throw at them. At any stage in the game they are capable of throwing off their shackles and attacking in droves and unless Counihan has a tactic up his sleeve to combat this, Donegal could run riot.

There will be lots of big men on the field today on both sides and the battle around the middle will be key. In the air both pairings are even enough but on the ground it’s a different matter and that’s because of Aidan Walsh. He’s been a momentous presence on the field for Cork. He has come under criticism for his shooting but this year he’s silenced those critics by bringing a more attacking edge to his game. His runs between the two ’45s have helped Cork dominating that sector and if he’s allowed the same freedom today, Donegal will be in serious trouble.

I think it will be Cork’s day, the main reason being the lads they can call on from the bench. CiarA?n Sheehan, Daniel Goulding and Pearse O’Neill would get on any team in the country and having them as back-up will surely be the difference.

– Paidi O Se
This article was published in The Sunday Independent on Sunday 26th August 2012
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