Posted by Ewan MacKenna

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2012 Cork 520x280

As we close in on the first of this year’s football semi-finals, Ewan MacKenna runs the rule over Cork and takes a look at the good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to Conor Counihan’s side.

 

Strengths…

There are so many it’s hard to know where to start but perhaps the most obvious positive through the year has been their sense of mission. There’s no doubting the side has evolved since their 2010 victory with Alan O’Connor able to foot-pass the ball accurately and Pearse O’Neill able to kick a point when once he could only fist a point.

But their mental evolution has been phenomenal this year and with the confidence of 2010 and the hurt of 2011, they look unstoppable. Graham Canty has gone from a has-been in Killarney 2011 to arguably Footballer of the Year if he maintains his form, and his performance on Mikey Conway the last day demonstrated that nothing will stand between him and his team winning another All Ireland.

They are fearless and they are ferocious, traits this Donegal have yet to deal with in such large portions this year or any other.

They won’t have dealt with a bench of this calibre either and in a war of attrition and probably the most brutal and ferocious game we’ll have witnessed since Armagh-Tyrone at the same stage in 2005, that will be huge.

They showed the last day that if one part is broken, they just take it out and replace it, meaning they always have 15 in-form players and when you wear one down with constant tackling, they bring in another one.

Their size is crucial too but they aren’t just big men, even though that’s been the plan from the start. In the Counihan regime, players coming through from younger grades are expected to be of a certain physical size.

Aidan Walsh and Ciarán Sheehan for example were naturally big and that allowed the manager to build on their frames and allowed them to make it quickly.

Contrast that with a player like Mark Collins, an excellent centre half-forward on the 2009 under-21-winning team. His skill has kept him around but his size has kept him back and after training sessions this year he was taken over to the sideline for extra weights work. Having talent is not enough.

But they of course have talent too, be it the marking ability of Canty, Michael Shields and Eoin Cadogan, the catching ability of Aidan Walsh and the forward ability where there are so many ways to score.

They can go through you with Sheehan, around you with the pace of Paul Kerrigan, pass their way into scoring range with the play-making of Paddy Kelly and Fintan Goold and they’ve the accuracy of Colm O’Neill, Daniel Goulding and Donnacha O’Connor. And if that all fails, Walsh and Paudie Kissane can pitch in from deep.

 

Weaknesses…

These all depend on the day and while their strengths are a constant, their weaknesses aren’t. We’d have talked about Conor Counihan’s ponderous in-game management leading up to the Kildare game but then, Sheehan was hauled off before half-time and there were four substitutions made in the first three-quarters.

We’d have talked about their ability to get drawn into a scrap when they’ve the talent to outbox opponents before Kerry but then, in the second half of that game they’d enough of playing ugly and showed they were the better football team. The opposition can only hope those problems rise again but there are no guarantees.

In terms of personnel only Ray Carey is vulnerable while in terms of tactics, sometimes you feel they don’t know just how good they are. Rather than playing an orthodox game and beating teams man-to-man as no one else in the land boasts so many quality players, they try and bludgeon teams into submission before kicking on, when they’ve the ability to both simultaneously.

Against good but lesser teams it could cause the game to go to the wire although even in such a scenario you can’t see them letting this title slip away.

 

Where they’ll win it…

Midfield and go-forward ball would be a good start. Donegal may have defended against Kerry coming forward in waves but that day the Munster side turned back when faced with a massed defence.

That won’t happen here as Cork will run at you, don’t tend to turn the ball over in the tackle, tend to break the tackle and there’s only so much of that the opposition can take, especially with a new wave coming from the bench later in the game.

The performance of their full-back line will be huge too as Michael Shields struggled on Alan Smith the last day and Eoin Cadogan and Tomás O’Connor had a great battle. But Donegal will isolate forwards and this is…

 

Where they’ll lose it…

Or more specifically, could lose it. Not only will they have to mark men, they’ll have to mark space as Michael Murphy and Colm McFadden can come deep and the Donegal half-forward line can come from deep.

In that scenario, Canty will have to stay close and make sure his pace isn’t exposed, Kissane will have to be as good on the back foot as he has been on the front foot all year and Noel O’Leary will have to be disciplined.

That’s an issue for Cork because they are cynical and if David Coldrick is quick on the whistle and quick to draw cards, they’ll have to tone down their game and be prepared to be a little less physical. Granted, so will Donegal.

 

Key Men…

Graham Canty — how he holds the line, stays with the pace and slows down Donegal’s quick breaks out of defence should there be turnover ball. Alan O’Connor — he may not be as talented as Aidan Walsh but he has the ability to enforce, be the first line of defence and grind down teams with some big hits. And Conor Counihan — he doesn’t know his best team but needs to get this right from the start as you don’t want to be chasing the game against Donegal, regardless of how good the bench is.

 

Watch out for…

The best Cork team since 1990 and arguably the best team since Tyrone 2008.