Rebel bombshell exposes Dublin's leadership deficit
W e got a great game of football in Croke Park yesterday to round off a very good National League -- and it's unusual to have a big national final nowadays where the skills of the game provide the main talking point.
Dublin were expected to perform very well after a most impressive league campaign, but Cork certainly rose to that challenge with a powerful second-half performance in particular, even though they lost three very important players -- Fintan Goold, Paul Kerrigan and John Miskella -- to injury in the first period.
It meant that Cork were then short a third of their All-Ireland winning team, so the test facing them in the second half was a genuine one, even for All-Ireland champions.
In reality, that challenge generated the greatest performance that any Cork football team has provided in Croke Park in modern times and it certainly vindicated the oft-expressed comments that they have the strongest panel of players in Ireland.
Dublin had been the more impressive team in the first half, if only narrowly, and with the attitude that often identifies great teams, they went for the jugular straight from the second-half throw-in, rattling in a goal and two points in a few minutes to stretch their half-time lead of three points to a staggering eight points.
But any thoughts of this being a great Dublin side because of that barrage of scores soon dissolved into emptiness as amazingly Dublin only managed to score two points, one a free, in the final 32 minutes of this game. As collapses go, this was monumental.
Bearing in mind the disruption in the Cork team, they showed great courage in not throwing in the towel and soon whipped over a string of scores to beat the band, a staggering 11 points in the closing 32 minutes.
Dublin seemed to take the foot off the pedal foolishly and, by the 53rd minute, Cork only trailed by four points and Bernard Brogan was off injured.
Cork's attack opened gaps in the Dublin backline at their ease and the much-vaunted Dublin defensive screen that we heard so much about throughout the league was reduced to ruins.
Pearse O'Neill proceeded to take this game by storm in the middle third of the field and it was he who provided the engine for this amazing turnaround. The Dublin players seemed mesmerised in his company and his sheer power and ability to provide openings destroyed their backline.
After that it was simply a matter of whether Cork had the forwards to cash in on the great supply they were getting and the scoring tally of six unanswered points in the final quarter answered that decisively.
Not alone did Dublin gradually find themselves overwhelmed in every part of the field, but their pre-match planning went askew, and even in the final few minutes when they did get several chances to at least earn a draw they reverted to some of the old cardinal sins of modern Dublin teams.
There was a shocking wide from Dean Kelly followed by a terrible wide from a difficult angle from Tomas Quinn and a similar one in the 69th minute. Old failings came back to haunt the Dublin fans watching from nearby Hill 16.
It will be hard to come up with excuses for this Dublin collapse but it must first be stated clearly that Cork played really powerful football, showed massive composure even when all seemed lost early in the second half and, above all, they showed what actually winning an All-Ireland final means in terms of instilling confidence and self-belief.
I cannot recall a performance like this from a Cork team apart from the odd times when they beat Kerry in Munster, and if any other county has aspirations to take the Sam Maguire Cup away from Leeside, then they will need to be a much better team than any I have seen in the past year.
This is a shocking defeat for Dublin because it has undermined to a large extent the great work of Pat Gilroy and his helpers with regard to structuring a new team with a new approach to playing the game.
It had all looked so well early in the game once Quinn scored a great goal from a superb pass from Brogan and the reverse roles of these two just after half-time seemed to provide more of the same.
But well as Dublin were playing in the early stages with their well-organised defence and the methodical build-up to attacking moves, there must have been some doubts in their camp because Cork were staying in touch with scores every few minutes, despite the loss of three key players through injury before the first half ended.
The lack of leadership in the Dublin team in moments of crisis really hit home in this game as each player seemed bereft of support from each other when the Cork bombshell dropped. This was in marked contrast to the Cork situation when they were in dire straits in the second half as half a dozen players lifted their game and inspired all the others around them.
This fine game of football was greatly enhanced by the performance of referee Joe McQuillan, who kept a hard match moving at all times, kept most of his yellow cards in his pocket and gave an exhibition of officiating that could well be copied by many of his contemporaries.