Tuesday 27 September 2016

Rebels' need is greater but they must exploit Dublin's weaknesses

Published 25/04/2015 | 02:30

Brian Hurley is a quality player inside but Cork also have men who can score from distance
Brian Hurley is a quality player inside but Cork also have men who can score from distance

Calling it straight, tomorrow's league final is quite simply a bigger game for Cork. They are the ones with something to prove while for most people Dublin are the team to beat.

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That's not to say that Cork are outclassed here. Far from it. For me, Dublin have weaknesses. They can be got at defensively for one. The diagonal ball can cause them trouble and Conor McManus showed just how much joy a good inside forward can have against them when he made hay in the league semi-final.

There are some question marks over their discipline too. Going on what I saw when they played Kerry in Killarney, they were hugely aggressive to the point where it was too much.

You saw Jonny Cooper and Mick Fitzsimons getting stuck in and even Bernard Brogan and Dean Rock trying to settle a few scores.

When you see lads like that getting involved in a league match, you'd have to be concerned that when the pressure is really on in championship, how they will keep their heads.

There is nothing wrong with that and it's what you expect but they went too far that day. Their discipline has been a little bit off and I think there's a question mark there.

SUCKER-PUNCHED

It struck me like they were playing like a team with a point to prove that day. Maybe they feel like they were sucker-punched last year by Donegal and simply threw too many men forward and left themselves exposed.

And that brings me to another point. When Donegal were getting on top, where were Dublin's leaders? Where were the players to keep their side in the game when their whole season was slipping away from them?

That's one of the problems with winning so many of your games by a cricket score. You don't get to see what's in the tank when it comes down to the nitty-gritty of championship football.

That's not having a go for the sake of it, it's just that people often talk up Dublin to the point where it's not really rooted in reality. They are, of course, serious All-Ireland contenders and top of my list for Sam Maguire. I just think there are areas that teams will target when they come up against them.

In saying that, they are in the league final almost by default. Jim Gavin is playing a shrewd game. We haven't seen all their heavy artillery together at the one time as they are gradually reintroduced into the side. Still their numbers are impressive. They have conceded just two goals so far and reduced their concession rate to 12 points a match. They are more defensive and I suppose they had to be after last year.

They have another level of depth to them this year too. Alan Brogan can do a job if he can get up to speed but the two less familiar faces that have caught my eye this term have been John Small and Tomas Brady. Tomorrow will be a real test as to whether they are championship ready.

Cork are back in familiar territory so an advancement to a league final will likely be viewed with a little suspicion on Leeside. Still, Cork supporters can only be encouraged by what they have seen so far.

The lessons of last year when they suffered that 17-point swing at the hands of Dublin in the league semi-final and the defeat to Kerry were clearly well learned.

They play deeper now but still have the ability to break hard from defence. Their four goals against Donegal can be dismissed as the Ulster men were already looking forward to championship but the 19 points Cork conceded might be more of a worry.

Still, team trainer Pat Flanagan will have them rightly tuned up. Their kick-out has improved and they can score. Brian Hurley is a quality player inside but they also have men who can score from distance.

I had my concerns about midfield, just on the basis they didn't have any big unit in there. Alan O'Connor could fill that role. If nothing else his return shows how thorough the Cork management are being.

Mentally, I think they have added another level of toughness. I was impressed with their four trips north this year and they, like Dublin, have serious mobility in their team.

Both sides are still trying to fit the pieces of their jigsaw together. Defeat here won't mean a huge deal to either side but it would probably mean more to Cork to win it.

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