Cork progress to league final

Tom Clancy tucks away Cork's first goal
Tom Clancy tucks away Cork's first goal

CORK 4-11 DONEGAL 0-19

ON one level this was the sort of football that every GAA traditionalist yearns for.

There were four goals while all but six of the 34 scores came from play and only one of Cork's scores came from a free!

How close it was to reality remains a moot point, however. In truth it was more like an exhibition match than a knock-out clash in the GAA's second most important competition.

Quite simply there was no intensity to the exchanges even though the game was played at pace in a near deserted Croke Park.

Cork won't complain too much, however. They are back in the League final for the first time since 2012 and with finishers of the calibre of Colm O'Neill - who scored 2-2 - and Brian Hurley leading their attack they are not short of ability.

They tend to thrive in these kind of loose matches; it is when the going gets tough that we will see whether they are the real deal.

The last time Donegal shipped four goals was in the 2013 All-Ireland quarter-final against Mayo. They had a whole season to get their act together after that reversal.

This time they have five weeks to get ready for their season-defining match against Tyrone in the preliminary round of the Ulster championship in Ballybofey.

Their much-vaunted blanket defence was left in shreds with Neil McGee and Paddy McGrath wiped out in their personal battles against O'Neill and Hurley respectively.

But it was the space that Cork exploited through the heart of the Donegal rearguard and their ability to force turnovers which will worry team boss Rory Gallagher.

Overall, the contest would come under the heading 'harmless'. Still, it would be churlish not to acknowledge the quality - particularly the long-range shooting from both sides.

Referee Marty Duffy saw fit to award just 16 frees which illustrates the lack of intensity in the exchanges.

Perhaps the League semi-finals do serve one purpose; they allow the players to express themselves, rather than just worry about the end product.

With Donegal's Martin McElhinney giving a fielding exhibition in the first quarter Cork were essentially wiped out at midfield - they won just two of their first nine kick-outs.

While Donegal led 0-7 to 0-3 after 16 minutes the Ulster side didn't take full advantage of their territorial dominance. 

They ought to have found the net after seven minutes. A sweeping move involving Ryan McHugh and Colm Fadden with one assist from Michael Murphy ended with McFadden being denied by the rapidly advancing Ken Halloran.

McFadden also missed three other chances and Cork punished them when Colm O'Neill set up a goal chance for Tom Clancy - a late replacement at corner back - who found the net to level the scores after 18 minutes.

Donegal opened up another three-point lead before Cork finally got their act together at midfield and dominated the last ten minutes of the half with midfielder Fintan Goold kicking three points from play.

O'Neill, who had the better of his duel with Neil McGee, kicked a point on the stroke of half time to leave the sides level (1-8; 0-11) at the break.

Goals from O'Neill - after a speculative shot from John O'Rourke rebounded off the upright - and a delightful effort from Brian Hurley within five minutes of the re-start effectively sealed Donegal's fate.

They did stage a recovery of sorts, outscoring Cork 4-1 in the next ten minutes but a brilliant save from Ken O'Halloran to deny Paddy McBrearty in the the 50th minute ended that comeback.

Cork's fourth goal after Fermoy's Tom Clancy had won a crucial turnover featured a delightful assist from Hurley before O'Neill ended any meaningful competitive edge to the game.

CORK: K O'Halloran; Tom Clancy (1-0), M Shields (0-1), J Loughrey; C Dorman (0-1), B O'Driscoll, Tomas 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 55m; D Goulding for K O'Driscoll 60m; Barry O'Driscoll for B O'Driscoll; J Hayes for Hurley; D Og Hodnett for O'Rourke,

DONEGAL: M Boyle; P McGrath, N McGee, E McGee; F McGlynn, K Lacey (0-1), A Thompson (0-1); M McElhinney, H McFadden; E McHugh, O MacNiallias (0-1), R McHugh; P McBrearty (0-2), M Murphy (0-4, 1f, 1 45), C McFadden (0-1). E Doherty for Thompson 40m; M O'Reilly for E McHugh 46m; C Toye for McGrath 49m; S Griffin for McFadden 60m; D McLaughlin for H McFaddeb 64m.

REFEREE: Marty Duffy (Sligo).