Donegal defeat not a big deal
Donegal 0-19 Cork 4-11
Just as Brendan Devenney warned on these pages on Saturday, Donegal came for an honourable defeat. Given their formation, the intensity of their tackling and their indifference, Rory Gallagher was not going to let the National League distort his focus on Tyrone, May 17 and the Ulster Championship.
Asked if the Donegal performance was more akin to a pitch opening than a league semi-final, the Donegal manager conceded: "It looked a wee bit like that, playing in Croke Park with so few there. It was a bit soft for the majority of the game. We opened up a wee more than normal. We'd be disappointed at conceding four goals."
The bare stats tell the story of this game. Donegal committed only 12 fouls in 72 minutes of football. None of their players were booked, black carded or sent off. Such a stat would be preposterous in Championship football.
"Once we qualified we came here to win the game," dead-panned Gallagher on their predicament, before getting to their real intentions. "But we're in a different situation to Cork (who have a much later start in the Championship). Our guys' legs couldn't have been fresh today. It took its toll in the second half.
"We weren't geared to peak for a game today. We're out in a must-win game in Ulster on May 17 - we have to gear for that."
There are certain things Gallagher will take from yesterday in Croke Park. Colm McFadden made his second start of the campaign and clipped over two points from distance, as well bringing a smart save from Ken O'Halloran in the eighth minute after he forced a turnover on Brian O'Driscoll and had the hunger to get on the end of a full-pitch counter-attack.
Eoin McHugh, after losing the Ulster U21 final against Tyrone in midweek looked comfortable here, underlining his credentials as this league's breakthrough act.
Elsewhere there are lessons to be learned. When Donegal go man-for-man, they are vulnerable. After opening up a 0-7 to 0-3 lead in the opening quarter, Tom Clancy ventured upfield and took a pass from Colm O'Neill to slot home the first goal.
And after another couple of exchanges the half-time score was level, Cork 1-8 to Donegal's 0-11.
Two minutes into the second half a John O'Rourke shot came down off the top of the post and Colm O'Neill was alive to the moment to punch past Michael Boyle in the Donegal goals. The next goal took only three more minutes to arrive, a Tomas Clancy delivery towards Brian Hurley who used his strength to roll Paddy McGrath who mistimed an interception and hit the top corner of Boyle's net.
With room in which to breathe in their defence, Cork looked increasingly comfortable toying with the ball and running down the clock.
It might have been an interesting exercise in seeing how Donegal can break out of their defensive shell when they are behind, but you were left with no doubt that both teams were not willing to show the nation their hands with a possible Championship meeting in August and the watching television cameras highlighting any possible tactical ploys.
Donegal had actually narrowed the gap to three points with 20 minutes remaining when Christy Toye drilled a crossfield ball to Paddy McBrearty only for the Kilcar man to blast it off O'Halloran's ankles.
Michael Shields made a break away from Murphy to kick an awesome score but then Cork killed the contest when Brian Hurley got past Eamonn McGee and into the dangerzone before unselfishly fisting across goal to O'Neill who tapped home.
It was Cork's fourth goal and the first time Donegal have conceded that many since Rory Gallagher's last game as assistant manager under Jim McGuinness, when they were whipped in the 2013 All-Ireland quarter-final.
Still, Gallagher is not losing too much sleep ahead to Ballybofey on May 17.
"I'm really pleased where we're at," he said.
"No serious injuries. We're very fortunate at this point in time that everyone is available."
Championship is all that matters. No surprise.
DONEGAL: M Boyle; P McGrath, N McGee, E McGee; A Thompson 0-1, K Lacey 0-1, F McGlynn; O MacNiallais 0-1, H McFadden; R McHugh, M McElhinney 0-2, E McHugh; P McBrearty 0-4, 1f, M Murphy 0-8, 2x '45', 2f, C McFadden 0-2. Subs: E Doherty for Thompson (40m), M O'Reilly for E McHugh (46m), C Toye for McGrath (49m), S Griffin for C McFadden (60m), D McLaughlin for H McFadden (64m)
CORK: K O'Halloran; Tom Clancy 1-0, M Shields 0-1, J Loughrey; C Dorman 0-1, Brian O'Driscoll, Tomás Clancy; E Cadogan, F Goold 0-4; C O'Driscoll 0-1, J O'Rourke 0-1, K O'Driscoll; C O'Neill 2-2, 1f, M Collins, B Hurley 1-1. Subs: P Kerrigan for Shields (54m), D Goulding for K O'Driscoll (60m), Barry O'Driscoll for Brian O'Driscoll (64m), J Hayes for Hurley (68m) D Óg Harnett for O'Rourke (68m).
Yellow cards: C O'Driscoll (41m), Loughrey (58m), Hurley (65m)
Referee: Marty Duffy (Sligo).