Long-term planning points to defensive league decider
Published 23/04/2015 | 02:30
After the Allianz League semi-finals last Sunday week, Jim Gavin described the Dublin-Cork clashes of recent years as "high-octane and very entertaining."
He was right. In fact, it extends much further back than that. The Dublin v Cork rivalry has almost always favoured shoot-outs to shut-outs, a test of creativity rather than negativity.
If the rest of the football world operated similarly, you get a sense that Dublin and Cork would happily plan their strategies around accumulating a consistently high score, all the time believing that whatever the opposition posted, they would beat it.
It's never that simple, of course. Dublin were scorched by Donegal in surprising circumstances last August and Cork twice discovered in 2014 that while attacking policies can reap high dividends, there's also a risk of a total wipe-out.
It happened to them against Dublin in last year's league semi-final when they squandered a 10-point lead and lost by seven.
"We had played some brilliant football in that game. Everything was going our way. Then, Dublin got a goal and suddenly the thing changed. We continued to be very attack-minded.
"Maybe we were a bit naive. When Dublin came back at us, we kept trying to attack all the time, instead of being a bit cute and dropping into defensive mode," said team captain Michael Shields.
A few months later, they were stung again, this time by Kerry in the Munster final.
"It was a bit the same. We went out and tried to play attacking football. Kerry sat back a bit and kept catching us on the break. Before we knew it, we were six or seven points down.
"We went for it even more then and Kerry exploited that too. It was a big learning curve for all of us," said Shields.
Cork are a different proposition this year. For example, Mark Collins wore No 14 against Donegal in last Sunday week's semi-final, but was regularly spotted quite close to his goalkeeper Ken O'Halloran.
"Cork would have been looked on as a free-flowing team over the years but the game has moved on. Most teams are now defensive in nature. In the seven league games we played, we came up against seven different systems," said Cork manager Brian Cuthbert.
Basically, Cork are adopting the 'if you can't beat them, join them' approach.
Dublin showed in their clash with Derry in March that they too can play the defensive game at its most restrictive when required.
And yet, it's not really in the Dublin or Cork DNA. That's why Sunday's league final has an intriguing sub-plot as two counties whose natural instinct is to play football on its attacking merits go head-to-head.
There will be a temptation to allow that style take hold and see where it leads them, but pragmatism probably won't allow it. Given the lop-sidedness of the Leinster Championship, this is likely to be Dublin's last big test before the All-Ireland quarter-final in August so Gavin may choose to road-test some of the manoeuvres required later on.
And after being hit for 2-20 by Dublin a year ago, Cork will be determined not to end this league with another defensive collapse. It all points to two teams playing a game that's essentially unnatural to them in order to get in some valuable practice for defensive systems they know they will encounter later on.
It's where Gaelic football has gone in recent years.