Donegal are back in their first All-Ireland final on the 23rd September since they defeated Dublin twenty years ago after they beat Cork in an enthralling semifinal in Croke Park on Sunday.
The first half was a tight and intense affair with the teams almost inseparable. The sides were level on seven occasions during the opening thirty five minutes. The opening exchanges were close and the sides traded points with Murphy and McFadden converting frees to cancel out Paul Kerrigan and Paddy Kelly’s earlier points.
The momentum appeared to swing the Rebels way when Colm O’Neill’s two points gave the lead to Cork but Donegal are nothing if not determined and they refused to go away.
Cork were unable to control midfield with Donegal gaining the upper hand through Neil Gallagher’s expert fielding in particular and this helped them to cut off the supply of possession to the Rebel attackers.
Mark McHugh has been one of the sparkling jewels of the summer and his stunning point before half time epitomized why he has made such an impact on the game. He broke up an attack in his own back line starting the move and then made a lung bursting run up the pitch to finish the move off in style and give his team a 0-8 to 0-7 point lead at the break,
Counihan brought on Pearse O’Neill in an attempt to steady the midfield ship but he could do nothing to prevent Gallagher from lording it over the middle of the park. Cork pressed Donegal intently but the Ulster champions have reserves of grit and determination that can only be guessed at and once they got their noses in front they were never going to relinquish their iron grip on the game.
Instead Donegal were patient in defence, moving back to flood their half of the field when Cork were in possession ensuring that the Rebel attackers ran up blind alleys in their attempts to locate team mates and elusive points.
Donegal tightened their grasp on the match and began to move away from Crok. Unanswered points from McFadden, Frank McGlynn, Karl Lacey and Anthony Thompson opened up a four point gap.
To Cork’s immense credit they did not go down without a fight. Aidan Walsh and Ciarán Sheehan kept the Leesiders in touch and Colm O’Neill’s shot crashed off the cross bar and landed beyond the reach of any of his teammates.
A massive Micheal Murphy free stretched Donegal’s lead to five points with just 15 minutes remaining but still Cork refused to give up. Donegal aided the Rebels by dropping the intensity slightly and Colm O’Neill’s late goal gave the closing stages a frisson of excitement and anxiety. It was too little, too late for Cork and Donegal did enough to hang on for the win and a place in the All-Ireland final.
That 1992 vanquishing of Dublin was the first time Donegal have ran out on to the hallowed Croke Park turf under the September sun and Jim McGuinness and his men will hope to keep the county’s perfect final record intact come 23 September.
Scorers – Donegal: C McFadden 0-05 (2f, 1 ’45), M Murphy 0-03 (3f), K Lacey 0-02, M McHugh, A Thompson, F McGlynn, D Walsh, M McElhinney, R Kavanagh 0-01 each Cork scorers: C O’Neill 1-03, C Sheehan 0-03, P Kerrigan 0-02, D Goulding (f), P Kelly, A Walsh 0-01 each.
Donegal: P Durcan, P McGrath, N McGee, F McGlynn, E McGee, K Lacey, A Thompson, N Gallagher, R Kavanagh, R Bradley, L McLoone, M McHugh, P McBrearty, M Murphy, C McFadden.
Subs: David Walsh for Bradley, M McElhinney for Kavanagh, Declan Walsh for McGlynn, D McLaughlin for McBrearty
Cork: A Quirke, N O’Leary, M Shields, E Cadogan, P Kissane, G Canty, F Goold, A O’Connor, A Walsh, C Sheehan, P Kelly, P Kerrigan, C O’Neill, D O’Connor, D Goulding.
Subs: P O’Neill for Goold, D O’Sullivan for A O’Connor, N Murphy for D O’Connor