Donegal talking the talk
Donegal's star defender Karl Lacey has vowed not to relive the horror of the previous Championship meeting against Cork, as they gear up for next weekend's All-Ireland semi-final.
When the two teams met in the 2009 All-Ireland quarter-final, Cork pummelled Donegal, scoring 1-27 to 2-10.
The points tally remains the highest recorded in Championship football in Croke Park and it only goes some way to explaining the huge gulf between the teams that day, with 11 different Cork players finding the target.
“That was just a horrible day,” said the three-time All Star at the launch of the Ulster Bank GAA Force in midweek.
“We are miles ahead of what we were then — at least I hope we are. But Cork have improved since then as well.
“That’s a game, a day, to forget playing for Donegal. Leaving Croke Park that day was tough to take. We have the chance now to put things right.”
The two sides were far from strangers at that time and had fought out a close-run game in 2006 at the same stage of the All-Ireland race, Cork winning by the minimum margin, 1-11 to 1-10. It was the year of Lacey's first All Star award and they were under the stewardship of Brian McIver at the time.
Three years later though, Donegal had come through a helter-skelter run of qualifier wins over big-name counties such as Galway and Derry and more was expected of them as they faced Cork, but the Rebels overwhelmed them with a display of power and athleticism.
Donegal won't get caught in the same way under Jim McGuinness, according to Lacey.
“We didn’t have the preparation. All the times I played for Donegal back then, you’re going to Croke Park hoping to put in a big performance more than anything,” he said.
“Now we’re going up with the belief that if we do stick to the game-plan that Jim gives us and if you give it your all, you won’t be far away. That’s a big difference,” said Lacey, who continued on Cork's obvious strengths.
“Defensively we were definitely opened up in those games. The type of ball carriers that are in the country now need to be stopped.
“(Paul) Kerrigan and Paddy Kelly are two of the best in the country and they'll be there Sunday week. They're going to have to be stopped.
“We have been on the back of a couple of heavy, heavy defeats. I'm sure it's in the back of Jim's head not to let that happen again,” he added.
With Dublin misfiring through the Leinster Championship and the quarter-final against Laois, Cork have emerged from the pack as 6/4 favourites, quite a distance ahead of Donegal's odds of 11/4.
It was thought that they may have been rusty from lack of competitive action during the eight weeks between beating Kerry in the Munster semi-final and facing Kildare in the quarter-final — the Munster final was a facile 12-point win over Clare — but they underlined their credentials with a ruthless hammering of the Lilywhites, putting 13 points between them by the end.
Lacey fears that there is even more to come from Cork.
“They’re the in-form team and looking at them against Kildare they have another two or three gears in them. We have to lift it another gear or two ourselves,” he warned.
“They have the ability that Kerry have and they have the physical side of things and the athleticism as well that no other team in the country has. It’s going to be a new challenge.”
Last season, Dublin accounted for Donegal in the All-Ireland semi-final and in the last few weeks players such as Mark McHugh have talked about it creating a certain hurt in the players that they wish to atone for.
Indeed had Lacey not picked up an early injury in that game Donegal could have had the attacking thrust that they lacked in the second half to break down the Dublin rearguard.
“Personally for me it was disappointing to pick up the injury earlier in the game and I’m just thankful that we’re back in a semi-final and have another chance,” Lacey commented.
“Every kid dreams of playing in an All-Ireland final. You're 70 minutes away from it now,” he added.
Most teams talk in terms of the next game, but with Jim McGuinness saying during the week that “What we are trying to do is win an All-Ireland”, Lacey backs it up with “We'll have the craic hopefully on the third week in September when we bring Sam home.”
Big chat. Big ambitions. Big game coming up.