Cork v Donegal: O’Leary aims to answer McHugh conundrum
High up among the sap and the thin air in his perch, working as a tree surgeon, Noel O'Leary is used to looking down from a great height at the world.
So it was in the homecoming for the All-Ireland champions when he looked down the packed street in Cork and belted out a few verses of a celebratory song.
Memories of that September day in 2010 will be far away when he finds himself in unfamiliar territory on Sunday.
All-Ireland semi-finals are fraught affairs where neither side gets to express themselves, but O'Leary will be under serious examination. The word coming out of Cork is that he will be detailed to pick up Mark McHugh, who will act as sweeper for Donegal.
Although he makes the case that they haven't examined the possibilities of what will happen, you suspect he gives a dud steer when he says: “We haven’t gone through the thing thoroughly yet. Mark McHugh is very effective. The ploy of Kerry moving Killian Young up on him didn’t work for them.
“It’s hard to know what to do, it’s something we’re all going to have to put our heads together on. The way he plays the game, is he a guy you would follow for 70 minutes? You’d want a lot of fitness and patience.”
On the test posed by Donegal, O'Leary ventures: “It’s a matter of thinking your way around it. You can’t be afraid to break the line against them either. A lot of teams have been holding back, trying to spray ball around, but you have to have the confidence to break the line. We’d be hoping we’ve our homework done. We’ve ways and means around these things, but whether it’ll work out remains to be seen.”
Breaking the line is the biggest weapon Cork have. They will try and exploit their natural physicality and athleticism. It might even have to stray into manic aggression. In the past, O'Leary's abrasive style has caught him in bother. For the best part of a decade, himself and Paul Galvin have conducted a running battle that has spilled out of the realms of ‘schmozzle', and into dangerous territory.
In McHugh, he will be chasing a will-of-the-wisp type though.
A potential candidate for Player of the Year already, the Kilcar clubman recently expressed his satisfaction with how the season has gone so far personally, and within his own role: “Whatever job the management team decides to give me, I will do. It could be corner-forward or it could be corner-back.”
It's not going to be either of those roles, but how O'Leary and Cork treat McHugh will be crucial.
Meanwhile, Cork manager Conor Counihan has opted to make only one change to the Cork line-up that started in the quarter-final for the rout over Kildare.
Paddy Kelly comes in for Ciaran Sheehan in the half-forward line, which interestingly was a switch made in the game. Donegal are not expected to name their team publically.
Cork: A. Quirke; R. Carey, E. Cadogan, M. Shield; G. Canty, N. O'Leary, P. Kissane; A. O'Connor, A. Walsh; F. Goold, P. Kelly, P. Kerrigan; C. O'Neill, D. O'Connor, N. Murphy.