If the Cork players who will actually be on the pitch have the capacity to pose a major threat to Donegal’s aspirations of winning a second All Ireland title, then those seated on the bench are perceived as offering an equally big challenge to the Ulster champions.
Cork’s strength in depth is the envy of all their rivalsTarget man: Nicholas Murphy was surplus to requirements in Cork’s midfield but he now has a new roleBY JOHN CAMPBELL
Gaelic gamesIF the Cork players who will actually be on the pitch have the capacity to pose a major threat to Donegal’s aspirations of winning a second All Ireland title, then those seated on the bench are perceived as offering an equally big challenge to the Ulster champions.
And with good reason, too.
By general consensus, Cork possess the strongest panel of substitutes in the country, both in terms of physical presence and sheer ability.
What other team could turn to the likes of Fintan Goold, Pearse O’Neill, Jamie O’Sullivan, Danaiel Goulding and others to come to their aid should they find themselves swimming against the tide?
Indeed, one of manager Conor Counihan’s biggest tasks is fermenting morale given that he can start only 15 players.
The familiar refrain that “it’s a 20-man game” invariably has special resonance when it is applied to Cork.
Counihan has the luxury of bringing on players who are well versed in winning and who epitomise pride, hunger and ambition, perhaps to an even greater extent than those who start games.
Donegal chairman P J McGowan makes no secret of his county’s respect for the powerful Cork bench which has so often in the past three years proven their trump card when the chips were down.
“When you look at the calibre of players on the Cork bench, you know then the real strength of their team.
“These are guys who would walk into most county sides and who know exactly what is required of them when they are summoned into action. Cork only make substitutions when they are necessary and you can take it as read that whoever is brought on this Sunday will be out to make their bid for a starting place in the final,” points out McGowan.
Veteran midfield ace Nicholas Murphy is a case in point. He was surplus to requirements when Alan O’Connor and Aidan Walsh cemented their alliance in the middle of the park but has now been converted to the role of target man and can bring this element into play on Sunday if required.
In Cork’s emphatic 2-19 to 0-12 quarter-final win over Kildare, it was significant to note that Paddy Kelly, one of the best players in the country, did not make the starting line-up but was brought on from the bench.
Little wonder then that Cork players will be on their toes from the outset with midfielder Walsh articulating the reason just why this will be the case.
“We have a big, strong team and we move the ball well, but our big attribute is the strength of our team. We have 20 or 25 players who are all capable of coming on and making a difference. That will stand to us and it has in every game so far so those who start just have to be up for it,” he stresses.
“It's definitely something that will come into the game on Sunday, that whoever comes on has the potential to make a big difference.
“Whoever starts, if there is only 40 or 50 minutes in those players, then so be it. They have to give it everything when they're out on the pitch and whoever comes in will have to do the same thing.”