Cork can do Dublin a favour and give them a game but winning is beyond them

Dessie Farrell’s side are in better shape than after the 2021 Leinster campaign - we just don’t know how much better

All-Ireland SFC Quarter-final: Dublin v Cork, Saturday, Croke Park, 6.00pm, live on Sky Sports Arena

We will find out a lot about this Dublin team somewhere along the way - maybe even this weekend if they’re lucky. It would obviously be better for Dessie Farrell if Cork turned up here dancing on the balls of their feet, whipping jabs and lacing punches into their ribs. The last thing they want is to uncover whatever cracks are hidden in their foundations halfway through an All-Ireland semi-final. The worst result for Dublin here would be a defeat. The second worst would be a double-figure win.

The Dubs are clearly a better proposition this year than was the case after their Leinster campaign in 2021. They are back amongst the goals, for a start. They are able to bring in the likes of Niall Scully and Paddy Small from the bench, which speaks well of how those on the pitch are carrying out orders. Ciarán Kilkenny has more incision about him, Tom Lahiff is doing his Best Supporting Actor bit in midfield. They look how a Dublin team on the hunt for an All-Ireland should.

And yet, there’s so much we don’t know about them yet. Their two oldest players are in defence and both of them have had senior moments in the 12 months – James McCarthy in last year’s semi-final against Mayo, Mick Fitzsimons in the last day of the league against Monaghan when Jack McCarron ran him ragged and relegated Dublin to Division Two.

Cork have a potent inside line and a couple of middle-distance runners at wing forward. Father Time comes for everybody in the end – is there a potential hole in the Death Star there for John Cleary’s side to aim at?

The good news for Cork is that they appear to have finally hit upon a settled side. For the third game in a row they have named the same 14 outfield players to start. Considering they handed out 15 debuts in this year’s league alone and have tried just shy of 100 different players in league and championship in the past five years, this is a step forward.

Cork were able to live with Kerry for two-thirds of the Munster semi-final. A fit Seán Powter, a fit Ian Maguire, an almost fit Seán Meehan named among the subs – these are all positives. As is the fact that Stephen Sherlock, Brian Hurley and Cathail O’Mahony have all hit purple patches in this championship and should relish the open spaces of Croke Park.

But ultimately, it probably doesn’t add up to enough. Cork to do the Dubs a favour by giving them a game but to ultimately run out of puff.

Verdict: Dublin by six

Malachy Clerkin

Malachy Clerkin

Malachy Clerkin is a sports writer with The Irish Times