It’s the first clash of the provincial kingpins this season as Munster champions Cork take on Ulster champions Donegal for a place in this year’s All-Ireland football final. Throw in at Croke Park is 3.30pm.
For the second year in a row all four provincial title holders have made it to the All-Ireland semi finals, giving the race for Sam an old-fashioned feel. Cork and Donegal have never met at this advanced stage of the championship but they have met in the quarter finals in 2006 and 2009 with Cork coming out on top in both of those meetings.
Cork are a settled team, with 13 of the starting 15 from that quarter final victory three years ago playing again. Donegal too have a core of players from 2009 with Frank McGlynn, Neil McGee, Karl Lacey, Eamon McGee, Rory Kavanagh, Leo McLoone, Michael Murphy and Colm McFadden all expected to play some part this time round.
While Cork strode convincingly to a third League title in a row earlier this season, they did suffer a four point defeat at the hands of Donegal in Ballybofey back in March. Spring form often has no impact on the glory days of Autumn but Jim McGuinness and his backroom team will have gleaned some insight from that win into countering the intense physicality that Cork will bring to the game.
McGuinness has received mountains of criticism for his defensive strategy but tit has yielded two Ulster crowns in succession and his team have made back to back All-Ireland semi finals. They have modified their approach a little this year bringing some element of attack into their game but essentially Donegal set about nullifying the opposition’s attacking threat before worrying about scoring. In Colm McFadden and Michael Murphy they possess two highly skilled and clever forwards who can hurt defenses if they are unleashed by their manager.
Donegal’s less restricted style has seen their scoring average improve to 1-13 over the course of the summer. Cork have an equally mean defence with both sides conceding an average of just twelve points so far this season. However Donegal have played five games, two more than the Rebels. Match fitness will not be an issue for Donegal but Cork have not been pushed in any of their three championship games this summer and it’s impossible to know what they will find when they are forced to dig deep by Donegal.
Mark McHugh has been in outstanding form for Donegal this summer. Named at half forward he is often deployed in defence and how Counihan attempts to solve that conundrum is just one vital aspect of the fascinating tactical battle set to unfold in Croke Park.
The key to unlocking the Donegal defensive line is getting quick ball to the forwards who in turn have to be able to score from far out. Cork’s midfield were in complete control against Kildare and if Alan O’Connor and Aidan Walsh can dominate possession from Alan Quirke’s kickouts and spread the ball quickly to Kerrigan, O’Neill, O’Connor or Murphy then Cork can prevail. They boast one of the best forward lines in the country and if anyone has an off day, Counihan can spring the likes of Daniel Goulding and Ciarán Sheehan from the bench.
Cork: Conor Counihan has made just one change from the side that demolished Kildare in the quarter final. The fit again Paddy Kelly replaces Ciarán Sheehan at centre half forward.
Cork team to play Donegal: Alan Quirke, Ray Carey, Michael Shields, Eoin Cadogan, Paudie Kissane, 1. Alan Quirke (Valley Rovers); 7. Noel O’Leary (Cill na Martra), 3. Michael Shields (St Finbars), 4. Eoin Cadogan (Douglas); 5. Paudie Kissane (Clyda Rovers), 6. Graham Canty (Bantry Blues), 10. Fintan Goold (Macroom); 8. Alan O’Connor (St. Colum’s), 9. Aidan Walsh (Kanturk); 21. Ciaran Sheehan (Éire Óg), 11. Patrick Kelly (Ballincollig), 12. Paul Kerrigan (Nemo Rangers); 13. Colm O Neill (Ballyclough), 14. Donncha O’Connor (Ballydesmond), 19. Daniel Goulding (Éire Óg).
Paul Durcan ; Paddy McGrath, Neil McGee , Frank McGlynn, Eamonn McGee, Karl Lacey , Anthony Thompson , Neil Gallagher, Rory Kavanagh, Ryan Bradley, Leo McLoone , Mark McHugh, Patrick McBrearty, Michael Murphy, Colm McFadden .
Prediction: Donegal are not the boring snooze merchants many claim them to be and this game is unlikely to be a carbon copy of their dreary loss to Dublin last year. Cork have the forwards capable of damaging the Donegal defence and the power packed half back line and midfielders to outmuscle the Ulster men. It may not be pretty, it will probably be tight and it will definitely be compelling. Cork to shade it and reach their fourth final in six seasons.