SOMEWHERE in most defeats an incident will take place which seems to signpost the coming result.
It might not necessarily be a turning point or a defining moment, it might not even seem that big a deal at the time; it’s just some sense you get in your gut that there isn’t going to be any happy ending today.
I’m talking about Aidan O’Shea shunting Noel O’Leary over the sideline in 2011 or Tommy Walsh pushing Michael Shields aside before kicking a point in the 2009 All-Ireland final, those kind of details that make you re-evaluate the shape the game is taking.
See, Cork were doing alright for a good spell of last Sunday’s semi-final.
Watch the video again and try and argue that Cork hadn’t been slightly the more impressive side for most of the first say, 32 minutes.
Neil Gallagher was cleaning out midfield and Donegal had gotten a few runs at the defence but overall, Cork were giving as good as they were getting. Not only that, they’d put together three scores (from their 0-7 at the time) which were taken from the book on how to beat this Donegal defensive system.
The opening score, where Cork’s angles and speed of running were perfect and Paul Kerrigan finished from distance.
Colm O’Neill’s first point where they kicked the ball three times to change the angle of attack and Kerrigan dinked a lovely pass to O’Neill’s run across the goal — getting a guy on the ball running across goal was key.
A straight ball to a player running out from goal was always going to run into traffic, which was essentially Donncha O’Connor’s problem all game.
And Ciarán Sheehan’s belter where he moved the ball quickly, took a return and struck from the wings where there was space.
Cork were moving reasonably well, creating chances, limiting Donegal. So what happened?
Well, that moment firstly.
With 32.47 on the clock, Cork turn over ball in defence and slowly, ponderously, work through 11 passes and fully 50 seconds of possession, looking for maybe the first time like they weren’t quite sure how to break down Donegal. Donncha O’Connor is eventually surrounded by six bodies and Mark McHugh wins the ball for Donegal inside their own 45.
They break quickly down the right and with Karl Lacey in possession, Mark McHugh runs right down the middle of the field to pop up in space near the Cork goal to take a pass and fist a point.
The move took three passes and 23 and it’s worth watching just to see McHugh drifting past most the Cork team into danger without anyone taking notice or thinking about marking him. It’s part of the madness of Donegal – nobody really knew whose man it should have been, and players don’t normally make those sort of field-length runs past the ball on spec.
At the time it felt significant, like Cork had suddenly realised, “Oh, so that’s what they can do.”
And Donegal suddenly remembered the best way to win the game. The whole pattern of the game shifted. Cork seemed a bit spooked, panicky in possession.
They had two attacks between McHugh’s score and half-time but made a couple of jittery passes that turned possession over; it felt like they’d forgotten what it was they were meant to be doing and everyone had a different idea on how to fix it.
By the second half, guys started taking on shots they shouldn’t have – Canty off balance, under pressure, on his left foot; Kerrigan over his shoulder; Goulding had a couple from just a little too far out.
They gave away sloppy possession with poor decision making (either running into tackles without support or just kicking ball into Donegal’s sweeper system), started looking leggy around the middle third, players were getting isolated — Sheehan getting triple-teamed with no Cork player within 30 metres was a bad sign.
In short, Cork had about a half-dozen of those moments where you realise things aren’t going to work out in the space of 10 minutes.
See today’s Evening Echo for the full column.