Colm O'Rourke: Appetite for hard graft can see Dublin rise above their station
All the pressure is on Cork today and it might prove too much of a burden, says Colm O'Rourke
Published 22/08/2010 | 05:00
In 1968, Robert Rosenthal, a Harvard professor, and Leonore Jacobsen, a principal of an elementary school in San Francisco, conducted a study to show a correlation between teachers' expectations of pupils and their actual performance.
The study was entitled 'Pygmalion In The Classroom'. Pygmalion was a play by George Bernard Shaw and the film adaptation was My Fair Lady, where Professor Higgins' project was to turn Eliza Doolittle, a commoner, into a lady.
In the study in San Francisco a student sample of 20 per cent was picked randomly but the teachers were told that these students were showing unusual potential for intellectual growth. At the end of the year, the students selected had shown remarkable improvement over the others, thus demonstrating clearly the relationship between expectation and achievement. This whole idea could also be called a self-fulfilling prophecy and it can work in a positive or negative manner.
You might wonder what this has to do with the All-Ireland semi-final today and the answer is everything -- it is the power of positive thinking. Over the years Dublin have had the impression that they can always beat Cork while, truth be told, they probably have the opposite view with Kerry.
This expectation of victory over Cork has driven Dublin to play better than maybe they were otherwise capable of. It does not always work, but history would suggest that all other things being equal -- which they never are in football -- then Dublin have a great chance of winning today.
Naturally, Dublin have to play well to do so, better than against Tyrone when a lot of things went in their favour. Yet that win should improve performance and anyone associated with the team who had any doubt about the road the management had set out on should now be among the converts. This team is not designed for swashbuckling football, that may come later, but for now a win by any means is the only aim.
Cork, on the other hand, don't seem to have had any visits to the football laboratory and play football in more or less the same off-the-cuff style that has always been their way. Conor Counihan has assembled a very useful group of players but, a bit like Dublin earlier in the year, they seem unsure of their best starting 15. Of course that is in part due to the form of players, and also some of the younger players who were introduced but who do not appear ready for this level.
So what is happening is Cork are more closely resembling last year's team, a team that the Cork management felt was not good enough and had set about changing. Now it looks like John Miskella is better than Jamie O'Sullivan and Nicholas Murphy is far more effective at midfield than Aidan Walsh. Cork, then, are similar to last year except they are not playing as well. Maybe this is all part of a carefully devised strategy to peak for today and the final unlike last year when they played their best football too early. Nobody will know if that is so, not even themselves, until the gun goes off today.
One thing for certain is that Graham Canty and Ciarán Sheehan, if they don't make it, will be huge losses.
Some of Cork's defenders are very good footballers but not markers. This group includes Noel O'Leary, Ray Carey and Paudie Kissane and I'm sure Dublin will be quite happy to see them soloing upfield. They will surely be allowed shoot from long distance as Dublin's backs and half-forwards, especially Bryan Cullen and David Henry, retreat en masse behind the 45-metre line. Cork will need Pearse O'Neill boring holes with straight runs through the middle and a return to form for Paul Kerrigan and Paddy Kelly.
Their only forward to have scored consistently through spring and summer has been Daniel Goulding and even at that, he could hardly be said to have conquered Croke Park yet.
Dublin will play like they did against Tyrone -- with a ferocious hunger and very aggressive tackling which will give away a lot of frees and maybe a lot of yellow cards too. With this style they will hope to keep Cork to a limited number of scoring chances as close-in frees for Cork are a bit hit and miss these days. Tyrone had -- and missed -- plenty of opportunities to beat Dublin, even if some of those wides could be attributed to pressure on the kicker.
Having said that, Dublin's full-back line held up well with an adaptation of the Beatles' mantra -- they got by with a little help from their friends.
Dublin have plenty of problems to sort out, though. If Pearse O'Neill is coming through like a runaway train, then Ger Brennan does not have the physique to stop him and so he will need Cian O'Sullivan on hand.
The biggest improver on the team is Michael Darragh Macauley at midfield. He works hard and is a useful foil for Ross McConnell who just needs to get the ball into the forwards without worrying about soloing or trying for scores. With Eamon Fennell in the subs, the Dubs are well served in the heavyweight department and the substitutions on both sides are just a case of when, not if.
Dublin's over-reliance on Bernard Brogan for scores did not stop them the last day and Eoghan O'Gara is a great and willing targetman. On a good day, like in the win over Louth, he will take all the watching and even with erratic shooting is still capable of damage. So too is Alan Brogan. His confidence has taken a dent as he has changed his style of play to suit the team but again he can put over four or five points.
This game will have an interesting contrast in styles, which will even be clear on kick-outs. Steven Cluxton will look anywhere and everywhere to keep possession, while Alan Quirke will post most of his kick-outs long to some of the big men in the middle who are excellent fielders. In reality, though, there is likely to be very little clean ball won in the middle, with the expectation of a wet ball and slippy surface, a punch or a flick-on is a better alternative than even looking for a clean catch.
This is likely to be a right battle, and a low-scoring one. Cork might appear to have some better individual players but also a looser type of team work. The pressure is more on them to deliver as they have appeared as the kings in waiting since Kerry and Tyrone slipped. The Dublin response will be hard work and if that is not enough, then they will work harder still as they feel that honesty of effort overcomes all. It is Pygmalion on the football pitch. And Eliza Doolittle became a lady.
Dublin to win.