Colm O'Callaghan celebrates after the game with his father Eugene. Nick Elliott/INPHO

'Cork football is crying out for that' - 3 talking points after Rebels surprise Donegal

Cork ran out 3-9 to 0-16 victors over Donegal in Páirc Uí Rinn.

1. A statement win for Cork

Last June, Cork overturned two Connacht opponents in the space of six days. Those victories over Mayo and Roscommon felt like championship moments of significance, the stuff to cling to when reviewing 2023 after their quarter-final exit to Derry, as they plotted for 2024. Yesterday was a victory on a raised level. Donegal’s progress this season has heightened their standing, they looked in particularly brilliant form last Saturday night against Tyrone. Cork’s feat in beating them ensured this was a statement win in the John Cleary era.

They made hard work of it in the second half having manoeuvred a route into a winning position. For a good 20-minute period, Cork’s scoring fortunes plummeted as Donegal took over and chipped away at the deficit. In the opening half Cork had struggled to post the points that would keep the scoreboard ticking over.

And yet they still found a way. After Donegal drew level, Cork’s display of character was impressive in making a concerted push for the line. Full-back Daniel O’Mahony and midfielder Colm O’Callaghan were both prominent, substitutes Steven Sherlock and Ruairi Deane made valuable inputs, while throughout Cork’s stripping of possession from Donegal players was a shining aspect of their play.

The trick now is to build on it. They know the benefits of finishing top of the table, a positive outcome against Tyrone will cap off their good group work here and in the opener with Clare.

“Cork football is crying out for that,” remarked Cleary afterwards.

“This group are putting in a savage effort. We’ve all gotten some things right and some things wrong. We’ve been kind of slowly climbing the ladder so it was a case of would today be a step too far? But I thought we played outstandingly well at times.”

john-cleary Cork football boss John Cleary. Nick Elliott / INPHO Nick Elliott / INPHO / INPHO

2. A game defined by goals

It sounds simplistic to focus in on – the winners raise three green flags and the losers fail to raise one. But hear us out on this occasion. Donegal the kings of the championship clean sheets saw that record collapse. Cork afer a campaign where squandering chances was  ecurring problem, were finally clinical and it enabled them squeeze out a victory.

Donegal had shut out Derry, Tyrone, twice,and Armagh, as they protected Shaun Patton’s goalmouth. But the manner in which Cork surged through to punch holes in their defence, allowing Mattie Taylor, Sean Powter and Rory Maguire, to all net, will be a concern for Jim McGuinness.

Cork corrected a trend. Their approach work has been strong all year in fashioning the openings, the finishing has let them down. They scored three goals against Limerick and could have reached double figures. They hit Kerry for an early goal in Killarney, but should have added to that tally in that period. Yesterday they got joy through Taylor’s blistering run and shot, but coughed up a few more first-half chances.

It appeared a day where profligacy would haunt them once more, but the quickfire double blast after the interval, altered the course of the game. A clinical edge got them over the finish line.

ciaran-thompson-and-christopher-kelly Donegal's Ciaran Thompson and Cork's Chris Kelly. Nick Elliott / INPHO Nick Elliott / INPHO / INPHO

3. A setback for Donegal

After a 2024 season characterised by extreme highs – promotion from Division 2 as champions, the sweet satisfaction of an Ulster title, and their highly impressive dismissal of Tyrone last weekend – Donegal hit a roadblock yesterday in Páirc Uí Rinn. Jim McGuinness termed it his team’s first major setback. What happens next will be instructive.

Fine summer weather, a long trek away from home, and coming off the back of the energy expended in that tussle with neighbours Tyrone, this game could not have been further removed from the league meeting five months previously between the pair in Ballybofey. The shift in tone and setting showed, Cork played with a sense of release that helped them edge out Donegal. The Ulster kingpins looked sharp and efficient in their attacks during the second and fourth quarters, but were unsure in other phases and punished for turnovers.

Coming unstuck after 11 league and championship games unbeaten, means Donegal are now confronted with a different scenario. McGuiness didn’t need reminding afterwards that they are no longer in control of shaping their season. Taking on Clare in the final day, they will need a victory and the other result to fall their way to gain the benefit of direct passage to the quarter-finals. How they now respond will be intriguing.

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