Cork's consistency gives them a slight edge
GAELIC GAMES:CROKE PARK will welcome the millionth spectator of this year’s championship tomorrow afternoon, as the turnstiles are expected to click more than 50,000 times for what is prospectively the most interesting of this year’s GAA All-Ireland semi-finals.
The tactical nuances and the variable interpretations that can be put on the performances of the counties make it a potentially fascinating encounter.
Cork have blitzed their way to this point and have an average winning margin of 10 points over three matches, a leisurely programme compared to Donegal, who became the first Ulster county to retain the provincial title having had to play in the preliminary round both years.
Donegal have been more authoritative this year, winning their province more easily and claiming a premium scalp in the All-Ireland quarter-final. If Kerry is the prism through which to compare the teams, matters aren’t greatly clarified.
For the most part Donegal beat Kerry more convincingly and had to cope with Bryan Sheehan’s presence for most of the match whereas the All Star centrefielder missed the Munster semi-final altogether. But the near-meltdown at the end left the Ulster champions looking more vulnerable than Cork ever did in Páirc Uí Chaoimh.
Again how is that to be interpreted? On the one hand Donegal’s survival may well do them more good than the uncomplicated six-point victory for which they were destined until they leaked 1-2 at the end. Conversely, they were in trouble – arguably for the first time this summer.
Like a boxer cruising the verdict on points, Donegal got caught by a haymaker when Kieran Donaghy got his goal and they were on the ropes until Karl Lacey delivered the relieving last score.
Donegal’s virtues, their disciplined and focused defending, relentlessness and high-tempo fitness, will test Cork as no other side has done. In answer to the point that Kildare would have been regarded as one of the best conditioned teams in the championship, it can be pointed out that a couple of freakish goals (not that Donegal will feel too superior in that respect) removed at an early stage any likelihood of their winning.
Nonetheless Cork have their own relentlessness when they hit a rhythm. They’re unfussy and single-minded, rarely bothering to jeopardise strong-running attacks by looking to carve out goal chances when straightforward points are on offer.
Tactically they are as big a challenge for Donegal as vice versa because they don’t really do tactics in any elaborate sense. Defensively they are resilient and support well – Paul Kerrigan is even dropping deep from attack these times.
Their centrefield is a launch pad for Aidan Walsh to get forward and their attackers go for scores when they get the room.
They won’t however have been as hustled and pressurised as is likely tomorrow and there are other downsides.