Dublin steel can forge historic victory over mercurial Cork
Anthony Daly’s men look strong enought to withstand the test of their new-found resolve
Cork’s forwards will find it hard in tomorrow’s All-Ireland senior hurling final clash against a physically powerful and in-form Dublin defence, especially a half-back line that includes the imposing Liam Rushe. Photograph: Cathal Noona/Inpho
The most eagerly anticipated semi-finals season in years begins this weekend with probably the most inscrutable of the four matches and trailing a blend of fascinations: establishment against outsider, achievement against potential and a clash of styles.
The stark contrast between the counties’ modern traditions would normally be a factor in hurling but tomorrow’s match comes with the twist that Dublin have done the bulk of the achieving this season whereas Cork are a work in progress.
Tradition teaches us Cork when progressing pick up momentum quickly. On a more practical level, the county’s two matches in the five weeks since Dublin last played give Jimmy Barry-Murphy’s team a greater rhythm even if they include the disappointment of a Munster final defeat by Limerick.
The biggest consideration governing the likely outcome is that five-week break because Dublin had hurled every one of the previous five between replays against Wexford and Kilkenny and the final against holders Galway. Each week they got better, culminating in wins over last year’s All-Ireland finalists Kilkenny and Galway.
For Dublin to inflict the first cut on Kilkenny was a massive breakthrough against the side that has set and regulated the standards in hurling for the best part of 15 years.
Cork by contrast laboured a little in the end of their quarter-final against the champions with Kilkenny, a man short for the entire second half, in desperation sustaining a stream of attacking plays that might have made things interesting had they not by then required goals.
The assumption that Dublin will have atrophied over the five weeks off isn’t necessarily true. With the weight of achievement behind them, the break can as easily have offered the opportunity to re-charge the batteries and re-focus. Comparisons with 2004 when Waterford and Wexford won provincial titles and found the previous year’s All-Ireland finalists coming at them are inappropriate, as the four semi-finalists this year possess just one All-Ireland medal between them.
Cork’s defence and centrefield have played well this year but their forwards are struggling for collective impact – unusually for the county, they have no goals scored to date – with two of the highest-rated talents Conor Lehane and Luke O’Farrell yet to find their best form even if newcomer Séamus Harnedy has continued his Fitzgibbon Cup form and Patrick Horgan has looked more authoritative in play.
The forwards will find it hard against a physically powerful and in-form Dublin defence and need their A games to make an impact, especially on Stephen Hiney, Liam Rushe and Michael Carton in the Leinster champions’ half-back line but Patrick Cronin has been playing well at wing forward and the battle will be fascinating.
It’s, however, the contest on the other half line that may be more significant. Dublin’s ball winning capacity – exemplified by Conal Keaney in the Leinster final – will exert pressure on the Cork half backs and complicate their function of creating a platform for attack.
The inside line is going to be arguably Dublin’s biggest challenge. Shane O’Neill and Conor O’Sullivan have been impressive and it’s hard to see David O’Callaghan and Paul Ryan enjoying the same open spaces and shot playing opportunities that Galway coughed up relatively early in the match.
Part of the fascination of the match is working out the effect of their respective fragilities. Both are equally experienced, having been in recent All-Ireland semi-finals.
Dublin’s dark days, referred to by manager Anthony Daly, of disappointing on some of the biggest occasions looks to have steeled them.
In other words, Cork’s hopes of mesmerising Dublin with their quicksilver talents look more likely to crack than the Leinster champions’ new-found resolve.
Tickets, including the concessionary offer for both tomorrow and Dublin’s football semi-final on 1st September, are available on www.gaa.ie.