Sunday 4 December 2016

Cork hold strongest hand in final push for Sam

Published 18/08/2010 | 05:00

Cork's Michael Shields goes past Roscommon duo John Rogers and Donie Shine as Cork maintained their push for the Sam Maguire title. Photo: Oliver McVeigh / Sportsfile
Cork's Michael Shields goes past Roscommon duo John Rogers and Donie Shine as Cork maintained their push for the Sam Maguire title. Photo: Oliver McVeigh / Sportsfile

By consensus it is the most open All-Ireland football championship for many years, the first since the qualifiers that won't involve Kerry in the semi-finals and the first since 2002 that won't have Kerry or Tyrone as champions.

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In that sense it is the most intriguing run-in for many years, with all four remaining counties harbouring strong belief that they can fill the void left by the 'big two'.

Cork are the natural favourites but any chinks in their temperament or flaws in their team selection are sure to be exposed. We assess those left in the race for Sam.

Pros

They are the most experienced of the four, having contested the last six All-Ireland semi-finals, two of which they won. The only other county to beat them in a championship match since Fermanagh in 2004 is Kerry, a statistic that should give them an edge. Their league record over Dublin in recent years is impressive. They have the strongest squad, which allows them to absorb injuries easier than other teams. Their need is greatest. With Kerry out of the way this really is their time. Their second-half surge against Roscommon suggests they have asserted themselves for the final push.

Cons

Finding their best team is proving quite a problem and not something they will necessarily solve this weekend either. With so much choice, inevitably there will be difficult decisions. They weren't too far off the mark last year yet there has been anything up to six changes in personnel this season. That's a lot. The pressure to deliver will be immense. Can they live with that expectation? Their form this summer in the key games hasn't been great. Graham Canty's injury could rob them of their most inspiration leader.

Tactical ploys

None obvious. Cork play opponents very much as they find them.

will the break affect them?

They'll probably appreciate it more than the other three teams, who had built up significant momentum in July. It gives Conor Counihan a little more time to reflect on what his best 15 will be.

The man who must hit form

Pearse O'Neill hasn't hit the heights he enjoyed last summer but there was sufficient evidence the last day against Roscommon that his direct running style can restore that extra dimension.

All-Ireland odds: 13/10.

Pros

They finally look comfortable with their new system. Bernard Brogan is in the form of his life, arguably the best forward in the game right now. Taking a 'scalp', as in Tyrone, will do wonders for their confidence and puts them, as Pat Gilroy infers, in 'bonus territory'. That immediately strips away any historical pressures. They are working hard and, having avoided quarter-final whitewash, they can play with as much freedom as their system allows them to.

Cons

Are some of Dublin's players really good enough to win an All-Ireland title? Some may argue that, individually, Dublin look the weakest team left. Bernard Brogan has been shackled before and, when that tap dries up, they could find trouble. Work rate and a well-executed plan should only carry a team so far. Tyrone had them by the throat for 15 minutes of the second half the last day and didn't kill them off.

Tactical ploys

Dublin's game plan is based heavily on defending their own territory, so much so that they were willing to concede short kick-outs all day against Tyrone.

will the break affect them?

They had picked up nice momentum in July with four successive wins but being out three weeks later instead of four is a help. A three-day trip to Carton House involved some intense training.

The man who must hit form

Plenty have stepped it up over the qualifiers but Alan Brogan can move up another notch.

Odds: 13/5.

Pros

They are a relentless side that have ground down opponents all summer since their early setback against Louth. Their training has been tailored for the middle to the latter end and it has showed. Their ability to score from long range surpasses any other attack left in the competition. They have developed into a very united group and, in the third year of a cycle under Kieran McGeeney, look a very progressive side.

Cons

Dermot Earley's fitness is a huge concern. Last year he was their pivotal figure. Have they improved that much in 12 months that they can now do without him? Having enjoyed great momentum for six successive weeks, a four-week break seems more like an interruption. They're notoriously slow starters and that may catch up with them some day. For all their ability to take long-range points, there is a high degree of profligacy too.

Tactical ploys

James Kavanagh and Alan Smith in a two-man full-forward line, Johnny Doyle taking a greater playmaking role and Eamonn Callaghan dropping back as a seventh defender has worked.

will the break affect them?

They were the team with most momentum at the start of August. Will they have it at the end? Four weeks will allow them to replenish the bodies after a tough month of July but the effect could be adverse in other ways.

The man who must hit form

Doyle has been overshadowed at various stages by Kavanagh and Callaghan but he turned the screw immensely against Meath.

Odds: 7/2.

Pros

There's a natural exuberance in all Down teams, a style that allows them to think they can win any game from any position. With Cork they are the only other county since 2002 that have beaten Tyrone and Kerry in the championship. Martin Clarke's return from Australia has inspired them and every one of their six forwards has the capacity to score.

Cons

Ambrose Rodgers' knee injury really stifles them. Without him in the league final against Armagh they struggled. They are the least physical team of the four and, ultimately, the least experienced.

Tactical ploys

Martin Clarke has a free rein and Kevin McKernan's protection of the 'D' worked well at times against Kerry.

will the break affect them?

Down's momentum in the qualifiers picked up against Sligo and Kerry. Four weeks will give them time to absorb the confidence gained from beating Kerry.

The man who must hit form

Benny Coulter showed glimpses of brilliance against Kerry but not as much as he is capable of.

Odds: 9/2.

Irish Independent

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