Eugene McGee: Rebels able to roll with the punches
Published 23/08/2010 | 05:00
Making it up as you go along is not the way of the modern GAA managers, who like to have everything planned out in advance and try to make their players into robots.
Pat Gilroy broke that trend all this year when he cobbled a varied bunch of individuals into a football force of the highest order. He did it by getting players to think for themselves and improve just by working harder and harder in every game.
So how ironic it was yesterday that the Cork team was forced into making it up as they went along against Dublin and Conor Counihan was desperately trying to plug gaps in every line of his team. Cork turned the game around by their use of subs in the second half.
Eoin Cadogan brought order and cohesion into a back-line that played like headless chickens in the opening period, during which they failed totally to cope with the well-advertised danger man Bernard Brogan. But after the break, the Cork backs got to grips with the situation and Brogan scored just three points as opposed to 1-4 in the first half.
Then in the second half -- when Dublin were four ahead and Cork forwards were getting more and more frustrated because of their own over-passing into Dublin stone walls -- Colm O'Neill arrived as a sub in the 51st minute.
Almost immediately he was fouled for a penalty, rashly by Dublin midfielder Ross McConnell, and Donncha O'Connor's fine kick to the net changed the course of the game. From that point on, Cork scored 1-7 to a mere three points from Dublin in an astonishing turnaround, bearing in mind that Dublin had dictated the game.
So Cork certainly did make it up as they went along, thanks to reinforcements from their bench.
All the negative things we had been preparing to write about Cork -- that their players were overrated, the forwards did not have a killer streak and that they swallowed defeat too easily in Croke Park -- have been set aside, for now at least.
And it is a mistake to suggest that Dublin should have won, because the reality is that despite all their previous mistakes, Cork did dominate for the final quarter and after all, that is the most important period of any game. This final-quarter malaise has hit Dublin several times and was evident during the reign of Paul Caffrey too.
A few things saved Cork during their bad times yesterday from being put out of reach by Dublin when the capital were rampant.
Midfield was always in control by Alan O'Connor and Aidan Walsh in the first half and it continued and got a new lease of life at a vital time when Nicholas Murphy arrived as a sub in the 43rd minute.
And with both sides, despite rumours to the contrary beforehand, being forced to use orthodox kick-outs a lot of the time, the aerial combats and the subsequent breaks most often went to Cork. That explains why Cork forwards, despite all their messing around, did actually get seven scores to Dublin's nine in the opening half.
For three-quarters of the game Dublin did rule the roost, but the highly intensive nature of their game makes shocking demands on the their bodies and it was inevitable on a roasting hot day that some players would tire a bit, mentally as well as physically.
That could largely explain the astonishing lapses of concentration in the Dublin defence in the final 15 minutes or so when a penalty and three frees were rashly given away -- all converted.
In the end, that cost Dublin their place in the All-Ireland final. After all, Cork only scored two points from frees in the first half but 1-4 in the second.
The tackling used by Dublin this year has reaped rewards in every game since the Meath debacle, but such individual hand-to-hand contests must be carried out precisely to stay within the rules. Dublin did not do that and gave away twice as many frees as Cork.
That is a hard lesson for Dublin to learn, but learn it they must if next year we are to see that banner on the Hill yesterday come true which read: 'I'm coming home, I've done my time -- Sam Maguire'.
Semi-final defeats are horrendous for the losers and especially for Dublin players yesterday, who played such extraordinary football for most of the game. Their graph shot away up to its highest point of 2010 and in a few weeks' time they will surely look back on an exciting and beneficial year.
Granted, they are still without a final place since 1995, but what genuine Dublin GAA fan cannot be pleased and thankful to Pat Gilroy and the players for a rollercoaster of a season?
Cork are a more experienced team after being involved in a couple of recent All-Ireland finals and have learned how to survive some tight championship encounters. That stood to them yesterday.
Yet I thought the game was gone from them after an incident in the 48th minute. Daniel Goulding won the ball inside the Dublin 21-yard line and looked ready to score. But in a flash he was flattened, legally according to the referee.
Three Dublin players surrounded Goulding and with lightening speed the ball had gone to Bernard Brogan via Eoghan O'Gara for a super point that left Dublin ahead by 1-10 to 0-8. It seemed almost humiliating for Goulding, but how well he recovered to play a vital role in the last dramatic minutes.
And how fickle the fortunes of football are.