Eugene McGee: The weight of history can drive Dubs on
Published 16/08/2010 | 08:18
There is a peculiar relationship that exists between many inter-county teams that has created a sort of superiority complex between some of them. This means that, whenever certain counties meet in the championship, one of them really believes that they almost have the right to beat the other.
A very good example of this occurred in the recent Connacht football final. Sligo were hot favourites to beat Roscommon and the form of the two teams this year backed that up, with Sligo moving up to Division 2 and Roscommon dropping down to Division 4, as well as Sligo beating both Mayo and Galway en route to the final while Roscommon beat London and Leitrim, a much easier draw.
But inter-county football is not a rational activity. The people of Roscommon always believe that they will beat Sligo in the championship, regardless of current form. And on this occasion they did, in some style.
Whenever Longford meet their neighbours they expect to beat Westmeath -- and more often than not they do. For years Offaly footballers and their fans always expected to beat Laois in Leinster and generally did until the Faithful's rapid decline in the past decade.
These traditions have a certain validity and when we look at Sunday's first All-Ireland semi-final it is important to remember that, in modern times at least, Dublin usually expect to beat Cork. While the counties have not met very often, thanks to the superiority of Kerry in Munster in the pre-qualifier days, it is significant that in the four All-Ireland semi-finals in modern times between the counties, Dublin have won three.
In 1974 Cork came into the semi-final as defending All-Ireland champions, but Dublin won by 2-11 to 1-8 and the Dubs went on to win the All-Ireland that year to start the glory days of the Kevin Heffernan era.
Next came 1983 and the famous replay at Pairc Ui Chaoimh when Dublin crushed their opponents by 4-15 to 2-10; once again Dublin took the Sam Maguire Cup. Cork did get a break in 1989 when beating Dublin by 2-10 to 1-9 in the semi-final and they went on to beat Mayo in the final, but normal service was resumed in 1995 when the Dubs defeated the Rebels 1-12 to 0-12 and subsequently went on to beat Tyrone in the decider.
It means that on the last four occasions these counties met at the semi-final stage, the winners went on to take the Sam Maguire Cup, which may well prove significant later in the year.
There is no doubt that Dublin fans will not be afraid of Cork, despite the fact it's acknowledged that Cork have a better selection of players at their disposal. But the same thing applied back in 1983 and even the journey to Cork for the replay did not deter that Dublin team.
But just how much does this sort of thinking, based on tradition, influence modern-day players?
Despite all the benefits of sports psychologists in training camps these days, I would suggest it still makes a worthwhile contribution, for some players at least, and particularly when Dublin play at Croke Park. Confidence is still the strongest weapon in any player's armoury and Dublin players will surely be boosted by their record against Cork in semi-finals.
That said, there is no doubt that Dublin face a really serious assignment in this game. They will be looking to build on the confidence boost they received by beating Tyrone in the quarter-final, but if they fall into the trap of depending too much on that victory they are sure to fail.
Remember what largely the same Cork team did to Tyrone last year when winning the game 1-13 to 0-11?
Events in the meantime have given credence to the belief that it was the game which marked the beginning of the end for that great Tyrone team, so Dublin need to be wary about measuring themselves solely on their recent defeat of the Red Hands.
Until they actually win the All-Ireland, this Dublin team will be on trial, as will their manager Pat Gilroy, because this is the way the system works.
Good performances and individual scoring achievements count for nothing unless the Sam Maguire is brought to the Mansion House on the third Monday night in September. Nobody knows this better than Dublin people, who have seen so many good displays in recent years but no Sam Maguire Cup.
So once again Dublin's exciting new midfield pairing of Ross McConnell and Michael Darragh Macauley will have another mountain to climb, as no county in Ireland has such a selection of midfielders of quality as Cork.
Indeed, this semi-final result could well be decided in the middle of the field, particularly in Cork's case as they have a talented selection of scoring forwards that is superior to what Dublin have produced this year to date. But when we mention Cork footballers we always have to measure the difference between potential and reality.
In that department, ironically, it is Dublin who have come out winners this year because they have seen their potential change into actual results in an amazing manner. Cork have been going in the opposite direction.
Dublin's back line in particular has coalesced into the sort of defence that Heffernan set out with way back in 1974 -- nothing flash but plenty of heart and grit. These are not commodities that come to mind with Cork sometimes.
Inevitably the general public will revert to comparing the respective forward lines and there is no doubt Cork do have the better choice. At times Bernard Brogan looks to be carrying Dublin's scoring performances on his back alone.
But this is where the belief I mentioned earlier comes in and, as in former times, if any Dublin's attack really believe they can overcome a certain opposition, then they often change from ugly ducklings into swans overnight.
That is Dublin's greatest hope of getting over a team with greater potential than themselves.