The Ulster championship is over, the result will go into the record books and will only show one thing, Tyrone beat Donegal by two points. It will not say anything about what sort of day it was, whether it was an entertaining game or not.
Indeed it will not say whether or not the best team won on the day. It will only show the result.
Like everything else in life, we have to move on. Many, like myself, asked questions about the defeat. It’s important to reflect not only when you win but also to ask why when you lose. It’s often said you will find out more about sportspeople in defeat than you will ever find out in triumph. Gaelic footballers are no different.
It’s hard to know what to expect on Saturday. Cork are a team in transition; they have had their troubles in the last few years and a lot of managers have come and gone. It’s important to remember that only for a terrible penalty decision in last year’s Munster final they would have gone on to win the game. Their season changed from that moment and they never got back into it.
They were poor in the National League and that was papered over by suggesting that the new management were not long enough in the job so more time was needed. When Tipperary beat them in the semi-final of this year’s Munster championship, the first time since 1944, the cynics and the same old questions started to appear; a county in crisis was one of the many headlines that appeared.
Pundits talked about their tradition in the GAA and for the likes of Tipperary to beat them was an all-time low. Such rubbish; anyone that has played the game knows tradition or titles won or lost count for nothing when the ball is thrown in.
The same will be the case on Saturday. Expecting Cork just to roll over for Donegal just because they might be in a bit of a crisis will not matter to the Cork players. They will have enough pride and belief in themselves to give Donegal a game. They will also know that while Donegal were on top for most of the Ulster final they could not see it out for the second year running.
They may consider that Donegal are not the team of a few years ago and if they put in one mighty performance their fortunes might just turn for the better. Yes, they only beat Longford by the skin of their teeth in the last round but what you need to consider is that the game was played in Longford. Longford had just beaten last year’s Ulster champions, Monaghan; confidence would have been high and the Longford lads would have believed that they could add another big scalp to their list. So getting over Longford should not be overlooked with any degree of cynicism.
Expect Cork to come at Donegal in the first 15 minutes and question whether they have the appetite for another challenge; Their confidence may not be that high at the moment; there will be a lot of questions they will have asked themselves in the days since the Ulster final - 'if I did this or that would it have made the difference'. It’s only natural after all, they are not robots.
Losing the Ulster final would have mattered more to the players than anyone else. They are the ones making all the sacrifices; they will want to respond in a positive way.
The reaction must be there come Saturday evening at 4 o'clock and it must be disciplined.
It’s Donegal that have to tear into to Cork in the first 15 minutes and sow the seeds of doubt in their minds. They must ask the questions and dictate the pace of the game and at all times keep focused on the job at hand. What's crucial, regardless of what happened in the Ulster final, is that players are let play their natural game and if we have to play an ultra-defensive strategy against Cork then we need not bother because the challenges ahead will be far greater.
I have no doubt that neither the Donegal players nor management will underestimate the challenge that Cork will bring.
They will know that Cork are not expected to do anything and the favourites' tag will lie heavily on Donegal. But these players have been able to produce it time after time when they needed it most; they have dug deep and have always found enough to move forward. I don’t expect it to be any different this weekend.
The minors will also face the challenge of Cork. Donegal were excellent in the Ulster final after a poor start; they played with great pace and vision and kicked some brilliant scores. One aspect that will have concern for the minor management was how they nearly let Derry into it in the last five minutes or so. Cork will offer a different challenge to that of any of the Ulster sides. Their brand of football will be different and like their seniors there will be very little expected after their provincial final defeat. There is a certain expectation on any Donegal team that play now, success of the last few years has given us the belief that more success is ahead. Hopefully that will continue on Saturday in Croker.
CLUB FOOTBALL ON DEATH BED?
It’s hard to imagine how any game of Gaelic football could finish 0-3 to 0-2. Glenswilly and St. Eunan's met in a Division One league game last weekend with the Glen men winning. While I have no doubt that both sides were missing a lot of influential players and with the greatest respect to both clubs, they have set great standards over the last number of years. So it should by no means be a reflection on those two clubs but a reflection on where Gaelic football in the county is at the minute, especially at club level. It has been said time after time that there is far too much emphasis on county football and the club scene is dying fast.
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