Masterful McBrearty sets sights on champs
Gallagher considers Dubs to be pinnacle right now
As he stood, leaning against the wall of the Donegal dressing-room under the Cusack Stand, reflecting on his masterpiece on Saturday afternoon, it was inevitable that Paddy McBrearty was steered in Dublin's direction.
He and Donegal only have a week to prepare for the All-Ireland quarter-final that will evoke a million little snippets of recent antipathy between the two teams over the coming days, but already they were switched on.
"Dublin are one of the best teams of all time," McBrearty shrugged, as though stating an accepted fact.
"Nobody is going to be giving us a hope so it's all about our attitude."
That they have been faced with this precise situation before and conquered it was of deep relevance.
Dublin, lest anyone forget, were a shorter price to retain the All-Ireland two years ago than they are now.
"We just kept our head down and didn't listen to the outside voices and we had really good tunnel vision," he recalled of their 2014 All-Ireland semi-final coup d'état.
"We exploited what we felt were their weaknesses.
"I think Dublin will be more switched on the next day," McBrearty predicted, "and won't allow us to do certain things."
Certainly, they're unlikely to facilitate another McBrearty all-singing, all-dancing variety performance so soon after his show against Cork.
The Kilcar man turns 23 the day before Dublin and Donegal do battle at Croke Park again next Saturday but it will be his sixth All-Ireland quarter-final appearance in his six years already as a senior player.
He has crammed much into an eventful inter-county career thus far, but Saturday night's torturing of Cork was unquestionably his greatest act as a Donegal footballer.
As his manager, Rory Gallagher, noted: "It was probably a relief to get out of Ulster to express himself."
The 11 points McBrearty scored - seven of which came from play - were of such diversity and skill level it qualified as easily the most complete individual attacking performance of this Championship.
Indeed, you could make the argument that only for a late wide and an even later black card, McBrearty played the perfect game.
"That was exceptional. His ball-winning, his decision-making, his finishing, all top class," gushed Gallagher, though McBrearty himself reckoned there was nothing revolutionary about the display.
"I keep making the same runs," he offered.
"Luckily, today the ball found me when I made those runs.
"The boys had their heads up more today than other days. I haven't changed from my own game."
How complicit were Cork in it all?
Peadar Healy pointed out that in James Lughrey, Noel Galvin and Jamie O'Sullivan, Cork were shorn of their best three man-markers, for different reasons.
Largely, Eoin Cadogan was left to mark the un-markable but the intelligence and timing of McBrearty's movement within Donegal's play made him almost impossible to curb.
"When Tom Clon (Tom Clancy) came off," Healy added, "we were shifting players around in the full-back line to mark McBrearty.
"At this level…(it's not good enough)"
There were other reasons why Cork failed on Saturday night to turn a disastrous season into something salvageable.
Their ratio of chances-to-scores stood at 62 per cent in the first half.
That plunged to 28 per cent in the second, as Donegal adopted a more familiar, condensed and deep-lying defensive shape.
Healy conceded that Donegal had "ground us down."
"Cork are a big county," Mark Collins, one of their few bright sparks this year, noted.
"We should be well up there. The talent that is inside in that dressing room…
"We should be here every year and competing with these. Since 2012 we haven't beaten a Division One side. That's not good enough for a county the size of Cork."
It was put to Rory Gallagher afterwards that his team had deliberately played without much structure when they last met Dublin in this year's League semi-final, a match Jim Gavin's men won by 10 points.
"We felt that to win the All-Ireland, you have to play Dublin," he explained.
"Most teams would be thinking like that.
"That's the reality of it. We played them in a league game ... we played a certain style of play."
Of the 2014 semi-final, he reckoned: "I think that will be a huge motivation for them. Going into 2014 for our boys, 2011 was fresh in the memory.
"People have got all this theory about that game - we felt it was a game we could have won."
Another theory that may get a thorough examination next week is that in shredding Dublin so violently in 2014, they also created a footballing monster, devoid of the weaknesses alluded to by McBrearty above.
"They made a couple of subtle changes, no doubt about that," Gallagher outlined.
"Protected their full-back line.
"But their overall ethos is very much attacking.
"One man back - fair enough, but they work exceptionally hard.
"I'd have great admiration for them. They work unbelievably hard," Gallagher concluded.
"At the moment, they're the premier team in the country."
all-ireland sfc qualifier: donegal 0-21 cork 1-15
SCORERS - Donegal: P McBrearty 0-11 (4f), R McHugh 0-3, E McHugh, M Murphy (1f) 0-2 each, K Lacey, F McGlynn, O MacNiallais 0-1 each. Cork: P Kerrigan 1-1, D O'Connor, K O'Driscoll, C O'Driscoll, Tom Clancy, C O'Neill (1f) 0-2 each, S Powter, Tomás Clancy, A Walsh, M Collins 0-1 each.
DONEGAL: M McGinley 7; P McGrath 6, E McGee 7, N McGee 7; K Lacey 7, M O'Reilly 6, F McGlynn 6; O MacNiallais 7, M Murphy 7; M McElhinney 6, R McHugh 9, A Thompson 8; E McHugh 8, R Kavanagh 6, P McBrearty 9. Subs: C Gillespie 7 for E McGee (44), L McLoone 7 for Kavanagh (46), C Toye 6 for Thompson (55), M McHugh 6 for McGlynn (61), E Doherty 6 for McGee (68), H McFadden 6 for McElhinney (71)
CORK: R Price 6; Tom Clancy 8, E Cadogan 5, S Cronin 6; S Powter 7, C O'Driscoll 6, Tomás Clancy 6; A O'Connor 6, I Maguire 7; K O'Driscoll 7, M Collins 6, M Hurley 7; D O'Connor 7, P Kelleher 6, P Kerrigan 7. Subs: A Walsh 6 for O'Connor (36), P Kelly 7 for Kelleher (42), C O'Neill 6 for O'Connor (47), B O'Driscoll 6 for Tom Clancy (48), J O'Rourke 6 for K O'Driscoll (62), A Cadogan for Powter (68).
WIDES - Donegal: 13 (6 + 7).Cork: 13 (6 + 7).
BOOKED - Donegal: 2 (Toye 57, Murphy 58). Cork: 1 (O'Connor 31).
BLACK CARD - Donegal: 1 (McBrearty 76)
REF: P Neilan (Roscommon)
MAN OF THE MATCH: Paddy McBrearty (Donegal)