Impressive Cork can edge fast and furious encounter
Dublin’s penchant for late escapes may not save them this time around
Dublin’s Kevin McManamon scores his side’s first goal against Mayo last weekend. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho
As we head into the play-offs, the team with most to enthuse about is Cork. Having moved into a stately home in need of a fair bit of regeneration, new manager Brian Cuthbert’s restoration job is proceeding encouragingly.
The infusion of young talent has helped to create a team with energy and skill, able to maintain a decent tempo and having the forwards to end the regulation matches as the top points’ scorers in Division One.
There remain areas of concern. With Aidan Walsh – who misses this game because of injury – partly distracted by his dual career, centrefield hasn’t been as dominant as in recent years and the defence is still a work in progress.
One sound opinion from the county is that the black cards have suited Cork very well in giving enhanced latitude to their forwards and allowing Cuthbert to develop a more footballing defence with an emphasis on feeding the attack rather than a simple stopper system.
To that end he’s trying Patrick Kelly at centre back, looking to exploit the player’s vision and mobility in a more withdrawn creative role. Between extremes – the uninterested looking display in Castlebar and soundly thrashing Kerry – performances have been promising.
Dublin couldn’t say the same thing after a fitful season, affected by the absence of so many of the All-Ireland line-up; four of last September’s attack – Paul Flynn, Diarmuid Connolly, Ciarán Kilkenny and Bernard Brogan – have accumulated eight starts between them in seven matches.
Defending championships hasn’t been an fruitful task over the past two decades and it’s unlikely Jim Gavin’s management expected to be in this position after losing two matches in three last month; they haven’t beaten any of the other semi-finalists.
Dublin will however enter this match in upbeat form. Last week’s defeat of Tyrone in Omagh featured some razor-sharp movement in the devastating early stages and some fine counter-attacking scores when under considerable pressure in the second half, finished by a work-of-art winning point.
This has the capacity to be a bit of shoot-out and neither side will object to going at the other, full on. The holders struggled to contain Cork’s forwards in the regulation match. Brian Hurley’s form has been so good this league – seven points from play last week against Kerry – that he’ll be fancied to exert further pressure on Dublin tomorrow and when under the cosh, they can look very open.
The same applies at the other end where Dublin were sharp last week. Kevin McManamon has been in flying form and Eoghan O’Gara’s work rate has created opportunities all around. Neither county has any pressing need for a league title. Dublin have however been riding their luck with late scores – essential to their progress – in each of the last two matches. That luck may run out tomorrow.