It's another must-win clash for the footballers at home to Donegal

It's another must-win clash for the footballers at home to Donegal

Ethan Rafferty of Armagh can’t find a way to goal past the Donegal rearguard in Ballybofey. Picture: Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile

IT'S the game which tests the resolve of everyone involved in inter-county football. This time it's Donegal's turn to travel the length of the country.

Today, they'll set sail on a 540-mile round trip for those based in Letterkenny with the Port of Cork their destination for tomorrow's 2pm start in Páirc Uí Rinn.

And when it's all done and dusted the Ulster side will head for home on a five-and-half-hour journey that hopefully won't be weather affected.

Last Sunday, I sat next to Martin Breheny, one time of the old Irish Press, but now embedded in the Independent Group, at the Cork-Tipperary hurling game.

As you are aware it was postponed from the previous week due to a waterlogged pitch.

“Did you know it took me eight hours to get back to Dublin afterwards?” Breheny sighed. I was all ears! 

“I stopped off in Portlaoise and it was another four hours from there,” he added.

That's the stuff which goes unnoticed, adding to the already stressful life of a modern inter-county GAA player. Suffice to say, Donegal will pray for an open road.

It's a must-win game for both, but for different reasons. Donegal are third in the division 2 table on six points, two behind joint leaders Fermanagh and Meath, and aiming for an immediate return to the top flight.

Cork's need is more pressing. Bottom of the table with three points, the same as Clare and Tipp, Ronan McCarthy's charges have to pick up two more points before heading to Armagh next weekend.

Ruairí Deane in action against Steven O'Brien. Picture: Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Ruairí Deane in action against Steven O'Brien. Picture: Matt Browne/Sportsfile

With only five points separating top from bottom all four games carry major significance in determining the main issues.

Clare host Meath and Tipp go to Kildare. The bookies expect the three Munster counties to lose. Armagh, on four points, meet Fermanagh.

Home advantage stood up in the last three Cork-Donegal league meetings though McCarthy remains to be convinced by the apparent logic.

“I'm never that convinced by the argument. Even in my time I've found that we've played better away than at home.

“One of the advantages of the away trip is that you've extra time with the players the night before and so on.

“Ordinarily you'd expect it to be a factor and hopefully we can use it to our benefit,” he said.

Cork's last league meeting with Donegal came in the 2016 division 1 relegation campaign.

It was played in early February with the home side winning comfortably by double-scores, 2-14 to 1-7.

They led by 1-9 to 1-3 at half-time with Donal Óg Hodnett scoring Cork's goal, but a quick-fire 1-4 without response early in the second-half put Donegal out of sight.

Cork's team included Ireland amateur soccer keeper Brendan O'Connell (Glanmire) between the posts and it took the visitors over an hour to register their first point from play, courtesy of Daniel Goulding.

Of the present team, Kevin Crowley, Tomas Clancy, Ian Maguire, Mark Collins, Paul Kerrigan and Brian Hurley, lined out. Killian O'Hanlon was a substitute.

It was Cork's second game in the league, having overcome Mayo impressively by 1-18 to 0-12 in the first outing only to suffer a damaging 4-25 to 3-10 defeat at home to Roscommon in the third.

That 18-point trouncing was the main factor in Cork's relegation to division 2 after they finished on six points along with Donegal, Mayo and Monaghan, but were demoted because of their minus 16 points' difference.

The Cork-Donegal tie in 2015 was also played up north and ended with another home win, but by just a solitary point on that occasion, 0-12 to 1-8.

You have to go back to 2013 for Cork's last league win over the Ulster county, 0-12 to 0-10, on March 16, with a team including Clancy, Collins and Kerrigan.

A Micheál Murphy pointed '45 after 43 minutes helped Donegal to a 0-7 to 0-5 lead, but Cork finished strongly to claim the points.

Cork finished fifth with six points, one more than Donegal, who were relegated along with Down, who had four points.

This term, Donegal defeated Clare and Meath before losing to Tipp and Fermanagh and pipping Armagh a week ago.

“They've had a mixed bag of results. Meath were in the game right to the end only to concede a poor goal. Tipperary scored three goals to beat them.

“Donegal are a big, physical side who play a good brand of football and are generally sound in defence.

“Obviously Michael Murphy is back and I'd imagine he'll start his first league game of the year,” McCarthy commented.

Picture: Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Picture: Matt Browne/Sportsfile

Despite their lofty third spot, Donegal are in the red in terms of scoring difference, minus two.

They've only scored two goals and average 0-13 per outing while conceding a goal more for an average of 0-14.

Cork's games produce more goals, at both ends it must be stressed, six against and four for with results averaging at 1-11 to 0-11 in opponents' favour.

“Scoring difference can be a factor, when it comes down to deciding promotion or relegation.

“For us, it's all about winning given the difficult situation in which we find ourselves. 

“We'll try to build on the Tipperary result, especially the positive elements of the display," McCarthy concluded.

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