Ulster take on Munster in the first of the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship semi-finals this Sunday as Cork go head to head with Donegal at Croke Park headquarters.
The sides have only met on two previous occasions in the Championship with the rebel county emerging victorious in the All-Ireland Quarter Final in 2006 and then in 2009, where they ran out convincing winners by a score line of 1-27 to 2-10.
However, Jim McGuinness’s men present a daunting prospect this time around and with two back to back Ulster titles in the bag as well as an impressive scalp over Kerry in this year’s Quarter-Final, a Cork victory is most certainly not a given.
For the second year running, each of the provincial winners have made it through to the last four of the All-Ireland series, meaning that neither Cork or Donegal have endured a loss so far in the 2012 championship.
Of the two, Cork have had the easiest run with Donegal’s victory over Kerry in the All-Ireland Quarter-Final this month certainly laying down the gauntlet and proving that they are capable of beating the best.
However while the men from Ulster have had a busy summer with five championship games already under their belt, the Leesiders have only played three and this could be a key factor in the outcome of Sunday’s clash.
All three of Cork’s championship encounters have been won emphatically by the men from the South and manager Conor Counihan has admitted to being disappointed that his side have yet to be seriously challenged this year.
Cork easily overcame old Munster rivals Kerry in the 2012 provincial championship by a five point margin, 0-17 to 0-12.
They had a surprising opponent in the form of Clare in this year’s Munster Championship Final and as expected Counihan’s charges proved too strong, winning out comfortably by a score line of 0-13 to 3-16.
Much was expected of the Kildare v Cork All-Ireland Quarter Final with some favouring the Lilly Whites to put up a stern challenge amidst talk that Cork’s long period of inactivity would come back to haunt them.
However, despite a worryingly sluggish period late in the first half, a rejuvenated Cork emerged to give an awesome display of football in the Second half that proved too much for Kildare to handle and they dismissed the Lilly Whites by a 13 point margin in the end.
For their own part, Donegal dominated the Ulster Championship for the second year running with powerful early displays against Cavan and Derry.
Donegal came back from a two point deficit in the Semi-Final of this year’s Ulster Championship to edge past Tyrone by a two point margin.
Once again Donegal’s defence saw them out of trouble and scores from Colm McFadden, Michael Murphy and Karl Lacey proved vital in the closing stages, while goalkeeper Paul Durcan was called upon to deny Tyron with a terrific save from Martin Penrose in the stoppage time.
After leading by just one point at half time, Donegal went up another gear in the 2012 Ulster Final when they produced a master class second-half display to diffuse the Down threat and eventually take the title with eleven points to spare over their Ulster rivals.
Donegal may need to register a greater scoring tally against Cork than the 1-12, which was enough to deny Kerry in this year’s quarter-final, while they did struggle to cope with a late Kerry comeback and were certainly helped by the loss of the Kingdom’s free taker in Bryan Sheehan. However, Donegal will be buoyed by their ability to see out that game, albeit by a narrow two point margin.
Once again Donegal will look to their greatest attribute, their collective pace and fitness in switching so easily from defence to attack. It was very much in evidence against Kerry and probably provides their best chance at getting past a physical Cork side on Sunday.