When their challenge was creaking before half-time in the All-Ireland quarter-final against Kildare, Cork drew on their reserves of strength. Patrick Kelly was brought on in the 33rd minute and then in the five minutes after half-time both Pearse O’Neill and Daniel Goulding saw action. The trio helped turn the game in Cork’s favour and enable them to power for home in the second-half. But have they done enough to persuade Conor Counihan they are worthy of a starting berth next Sunday?
The sense is that O’Neill may find it difficult to break into midfield given that it looked as if Alan O’Connor was withdrawn against Kildare as he was on a yellow card and was getting involved in plenty physical combat. Aidan Walsh is guaranteed to start such is the level of performances that he has conjuring up this summer and he has forged a consistent partnership with O’Connor that Counihan is likely to stick with.
The attack is a different dilemma for Counihan. Last year against Mayo he was scrambling for forwards after a series of ruinous injuries but now he has to choose six players from the eight options of Ciaran Sheehan, Fintan Goold, Paul Kerrigan, Colm O’Neill, Donncha O’Connor, Nicholas Murphy, Kelly and Goulding. Form would indicate that Goold, Kerrigan, O’Neill and O’Connor are in a strong position with Sheehan and Murphy potentially coming under the most pressure.
Kelly and Goulding have had their seasons hindered by injuries at various stages but both are now in a good condition. Against the massed Donegal defence, the guile of Kelly and the point-taking ability of Goulding could be crucial ingredients to a Cork success. But is Counihan going to unleash those weapons from the off or hold onto them until the game opens up? It is a headache he faces yet one he will welcome.
Neil Gallagher in training for Donegal last week at MacCumhaill Park in Ballybofey. Pic: INPHO/Lorraine O’Sullivan
The central issue for Donegal is whether to bring the Glenswilly midfielder Neil Gallagher into their team from the start. He struggled with his fitness before the All-Ireland quarter-final against Kerry, suffering from an ankle injury, and as a result the St Michael’s player Martin McElhinney was drafted in as a replacement at midfield. Gallagher was brought into the action at half-time and it is felt that he offers a more physical and experienced challenge. McElhinney is currently hampered by a slight knee injury which ruled him out of a recent club game and training with Donegal last week. That could tip the balance further in favour of Gallagher starting.
Apart from that there are unlikely to be other Donegal changes. David Walsh and Christy Toye made fine contributions during the semi-final but their introduction was also down to Ryan Bradley and Leo McLoone needing a break after putting in great shifts. It’s difficult to see Bradley and McLoone not starting and the rest of the side will be untouched. Defenders Karl Lacey and Eamonn McGee are on course to make their 100th and 99th appearances respectively in senior competitive outings for Donegal.