Today's Allianz football league finals
Division 1: Cork v DublinCroke Park, 4.0
After a generous lapse of 11 years Dublin are back in a National League final. They meet Cork who they played in their last appearance here in 1999.
But there is added weight to their presence; the '99 final was staged in Cork, so Dublin's last national final at headquarters goes all the way back to the All-Ireland of 1995. Although a league title won't be of much succour if they fall short of expectations in the championship, frequent successful marriages of league and championship compelled Dublin to make a better go of it.
The process has been about building confidence, erasing doubts and dealing with pressure. So far they have reacted to those challenges admirably.
Dublin are now a convincing summer challenger for the All-Ireland and a league final win would advance those claims, especially against the reigning league and All-Ireland champions.
Cork, a little like their hurling counterparts in Kilkenny, haven't overly stretched themselves to get here. Dipping deep into their resources, doing enough to claw out the results when needed, their football hasn't, apart from some exceptions, exhibited much fluency and charm. They are able to name a strong side but still lose Eoin Cadogan to suspension while injury rules out Aidan Walsh and Paul Kerrigan.
They will regard Dublin, unlucky to lose to Cork in last year's championship, as a serious and growing threat to their position in the months ahead. Last year they defeated Mayo comfortably in the final and it meant little enough to them. There would be greater satisfaction in stopping Dublin's unbeaten run and rising pretensions, to burst that highly inflatable pale blue balloon.
It will be a final of the modern template championing hard work and fast running, with a lot of tired bodies tonight and tomorrow. Given Dublin's presence a large crowd is also guaranteed and a genuine big-match atmosphere, so that while the stakes will never emulate those of a championship match there are many of the varietals present to make it exciting. Dublin, with Bernard Brogan (pictured) leading the line, have been the league's goalscoring team, 16 in seven games, only failing to register in one game against Monaghan. That and their momentum could prove decisive.
Cork: K O'Halloran; R Carey, M Shields, J O'Sullivan; N O'Leary, J Miskella, P Kissane; A O'Connor, N Murphy; P O'Neill, P Kelly, F Gould; D Goulding, D O'Connor, C Sheehan.
Dublin: S Cluxton; M Fitzsimons, P Brogan, P McMahon; B Cahill, G Brennan, K Nolan; D Bastick, M D Macauley; P Flynn, K McMenamin, B Cullen; T Quinn, D Connolly, B Brogan.
Donegal v Laois
Croke Park, 2.0
Two bright and upwardly mobile teams; two bright and upwardly mobile managers in charge of them. With both safely promoted to Division 1, they can approach this in a more relaxed vein. Both have looming championship dates of greater importance, against opponents they'll be expected to beat but dare not take for granted.
When they met in the regulation game, the last of the series, two weeks ago, Laois won by four points. MJ Tierney punished the visiting team's indiscipline with a stylish exhibition of free-taking and shares the scoring load chiefly with Ross Munnelly. Laois have built a powerful half-forward line of strong men and earned the notice of today's opposition for their brawn and musculature. A tactic of defending in numbers is hardly a surprise given their manager's roots in a methodology never to be confused with that espoused by, say, Ossie Ardiles.
That is not to state that they can't excite -- they can -- and Laois, like Armagh and many other teams who play that way, have an excellent technical command of the skills and can play swift counter-attacking football. Both themselves and Donegal have experienced great swings in their fortunes in recent years and much of the lows have been the result either of fitful application or naivety on the field, or a decent measure of both. They now appear more erudite but there is no coronation taking place today. It is a step on the road, nothing more. Donegal have included all the players who were said to be carrying injuries, including Michael Murphy, their exemplary and richly talented forward. He faces a converted midfielder in Kevin Meaney. This is about seeing how players like Meaney respond to such tasks as it is about collecting the medals on offer. Laois, whose opponents are in championship action a week sooner, may have that bit more breathing space.
Donegal: P Durkan; P McGrath, N McGee, K Lacey; A Thompson, F McFlynn, K Cassidy; R Kavanagh, M McElhinney; M Hegarty, M McHugh, D Molloy; R Bradley, M Murphy, C McFadden.
Laois: E Culleton; D Booth, K Meaney, M Timmons; D Strong, S Julian, P O'Leary; P Clancy, B Quigley; C Begley, J O'Loughlin, N Donoher; R Munnelly, B Sheehan, MJ Tierney.
Sunday Indo Sport