Donegal earn chance to dethrone Dublin in All-Ireland quarter-finals
Cork 1-15 Donegal 0-21
Donegal will have the opportunity to repeat their 2014 Championship victory over Dublin when they face the defending champions in the All-Ireland quarter-finals this Saturday, after rediscovering their mojo to defeat Cork 0-21 to 1-15 in a Round 4B qualifier in Croke Park.
A victory fashioned out by muscle memory and experience, they recovered a five-point gap to apply a stranglehold on Cork and held them scoreless in the fourth quarter until six minutes into injury-time.
A total of 16 of their 21 points were made in Kilcar. Cousins Ryan (3) and Eoin McHugh (2) were chief line-breakers and their daring raids were rewarded, but the star of the show was Patrick McBrearty, sensational throughout in scoring 11 points.
His manager Rory Gallagher said afterwards: "I thought he was excellent, his accuracy, his hunger were great.
"It was probably a relief to get out of Ulster to express himself. But he is obviously a talented player. I know him extremely well with club and county over the last number of years, he is capable of those things.
"He hit such a high level, that was exceptional. His ball-winning, his decision-making and his finishing were top class."
McBrearty himself was typically humble.
"That's just the way it goes," he said, downplaying his contribution to the victory.
"Sometimes you have those days, some days you don't. It was a great day as well for Ryan and Eoin, a great day for the wee club in Kilcar. A parish of only 900 people, it's a big achievement for us."
So what clicked in order for him to have his most impressive game since arriving on the scene as a 17-year-old in 2011? He answered: "I kept making the same runs. Luckily the ball found me when I did.
"The boys had their heads up more here than other days. I haven't changed from my own game."
His seven first-half points kept Donegal in touch, but it could have been different after their defence went to sleep after conceding a free.
That permitted Paul Kerrigan to take it smartly and get on the end of the move to slot to the top corner of the net on 17 minutes, leaving Cork 1-6 to 0-4 in front.
A spurt of Donegal scoring, however, narrowed that gap to one by half-time, Cork with a 1-9 to 0-11 advantage.
Donegal then turned the screw in the second-half, shutting down the Cork attack, nipping in front with 10 minutes of normal time left and then striking for home.
Rebels manager Peader Healy delivered his post-match ruminations under the cloud of what has been a most underwhelming season for all concerned in Cork GAA, and he pointed to the absence of former Antrim star James Loughrey through suspension as a key factor.
"They wore us down and we missed too many chances, we should have showed more composure," he said.
"Having said that, we couldn't get a handle on (Patrick) McBrearty either, he was exceptionally good.
"We tried three or four guys marking him. James Loughrey was a big loss to us, so was Noel Galvin during the week along with Jamie O'Sullivan, three good man-markers that we just didn't have available.
"But no excuses, they wore us down and they deserved the win."
Gallagher explained that the victory represented a puzzling but satisfying recovery from the disappointment of the Ulster final defeat to Tyrone.
"I suppose we play in a sport where one defeat is almost like the end of the world, but it's not really. That's the nature of it, it's obviously a cherished prize, the Ulster final, so to get back on the horse and dig it out as we did was pleasing," he said.
What will tax him this week, before he turns his attention to the Dubs, was the way in which Cork were able to run lines and slice open the Donegal defence.
"That was disappointing," he commented.
"They opened us up far too easily, it took us too long to get to the pitch of the game. In the second-half we decided we had to wrestle some control of it. Cork were very much dictating the first-half, even though we got ourselves back in it."
Gallagher now has five days to plan for defending All-Ireland champions Dublin. When Donegal shocked the GAA world with a win in that fixture in 2014, then manager Jim McGuinness revealed he had a blueprint for victory after they fell over the line against Armagh in the quarter-final. He had a matter of weeks to apply it.
Next Saturday's game will be the headliner with throw-in at 6pm, after the Tyrone-Mayo quarter-final. A packed house for the biggest day of football this summer. Unmissable.
DONEGAL: M McGinley; P McGrath, E McGee, N McGee; K Lacey 0-1, M O'Reilly, F McGlynn 0-1; O MacNiallais 0-1, M Murphy 0-2, 1f; E McHugh 0-2, R McHugh 0-3, A Thompson; E McHugh, R Kavanagh, P McBrearty 0-11, 4f Subs:C Gillespie for E McGee (44), L McLoone for Kavanagh (46), C Toye for Thompson (55), M McHugh for McGlynn (61), E Doherty for McGee (68), H McFadden for McElhinney (71) Yellow cards: Kavanagh (42), Toye (56) Murphy (59) Black cards: McBrearty (76) Red cards: 0
CORK: R Price; Tom Clancy 0-2, E Cadogan, S Cronin; S Powter 0-1, C O'Driscoll 0-2, Tomás Clancy 0-1; A O'Connor, I Maguire; K O'Driscoll 0-2, M Collins 0-1, M Hurley; D O'Connor 0-2, P Kelleher, P Kerrigan 1-1 Subs: A Walsh 0-1 for O'Connor (36), P Kelly for Kelleher (42), C O'Neill 0-2, 1f, for O'Connor (47), B O'Driscoll for Tom Clancy (48), J O'Rourke for K O'Driscoll (62), A Cadogan for Powter (68) Yellow cards: D O'Connor (39) Black cards: 0 Red cards: 0
Referee: Paddy Neilan (Roscommon)