I n the big field down by the canal this afternoon there will be four teams, two cups and muted celebrations no matter who wins. It would be nice if one of the teams showed some raw passion in victory, just like Real Madrid on Wednesday night, but hopefully they won't drive over the cup on the way home.
In many ways, the league has become sanitised. Players talk of it being nice to win but they are really thinking of the Championship. Managers with long faces talk of all the hard work that lies ahead. Hopefully some day a manager will go on television and say they are absolutely thrilled with winning and to hell with the Championship, that they intend to live it up and celebrate and will think of the Championship in a week. Winning is about joy, and showing it. There are enough bad days. Whenever a team wins anything in Croke Park they should not be afraid to tell the world how great a feeling it is. Only a small number ever get the chance.
The smallest celebration may come after the top game. Maybe Dublin and Cork see bigger fish to fry but this is a national title and there are only two chances every year to win one. The likelihood is that both sides will be involved in August yet a win at this stage is worth more than a loss in terms of self-confidence, never mind team confidence.
If a player thinks he is better than his opponent today and beats him then he will think the same in the Championship. The reverse of course is also true.
When they met earlier, Dublin scored the goals and Cork the points -- it finished 3-13 to 0-16. I felt that if they met again Cork would probably win, but it is like comparing apples and oranges as Dublin and Cork have both made a good few changes.
At least we know now what is considered Dublin's best team after the rotation of earlier matches where a very strong panel was built while the team kept on winning. That is a neat trick and further underlines that Pat Gilroy and his management group have been considered in their approach and have taken the long view. Also of note is, as a group, they are confident enough in themselves that they don't pass any remarks on the media, which in Dublin is a big advantage. There is no false bravado or posturing among the players now; they name their team and get on with it. Pity others would not follow.
Dublin are short Alan Brogan today which is unfortunate. For a player who has never got involved in dirty play, it must be hard to take that he misses his first chance of a national final after years of service. Eoin Cadogan of Cork must also watch from the stand after a red card against Armagh. He is potentially a very good aggressive back but there are times when he is living at or over the edge and, if you skate on thin ice too often, you fall in. He will learn, this time it is the hard way.
Dublin will dictate the style of play and Cork must respond. The Dubs will be disciplined in formation and will retreat en masse once they lose possession -- even allowing short kick-outs in order to ensure they have their defence in order. It will mean Cork will be forced to move the ball by hand to midfield and if they do it slowly then their forwards will all be double-marked.
This puts pressure on Daniel Goulding, Patrick Kelly, Pearse O'Neill and friends to be constantly moving to make space for each other or else they will have Paul Flynn and Bryan Cullen as markers. This policy of the Dublin wing-forwards being the workhorses seems well planned -- you run yourself to the limit and then a sub comes on.
Cork may not be so meticulously arranged, but they have a greater number of better players. Yet in the All-Ireland semi-final Cork did not really get to grips with Dublin at all until the Dubs committed hara-kari in front of 80,000. Dublin are better now but Cork are a lot better. Scoring goals regularly has meant they can give teams a right walloping now where they struggled in the past to scrape home.
This will be a proper game at a very fast pace. Hopefully the referee will let them get on with it. A lot of games in this league have been ruined by refs handing out cards for very little. Regularly there are ten or 12 yellow cards and a couple of reds. If you were not at the match you would think it was a bloodbath. So it really is a case of not giving out the first yellow unless absolutely necessary and if a player has one it does not mean another has to follow for the next tackle. What about a quiet word or showing the black book? A bit of uncommon sense.
Refs, linesmen and umpires should keep a much lower profile and if a player is fouled and plays
on quickly, please don't call back the play to book someone and penalise the team which has been fouled. Do it at the next break in play. There'll hardly be a dirty stroke in this match or the other final so a red card would be a surprise and anything more than a few yellows means there is something radically wrong.
It may only be April but this game is for real. Dublin have a much better panel than last year. The problem is that their winning margins have narrowed as the League has gone on and even with their strongest team so far, they now appear vulnerable to Cork. It would be better if Dublin could win as it would create another real contender for the Championship. However, I think Cork are a better all-round side who dominate possession and with an improved scoring ratio they should win.
The Division 2 final suffers by comparison with the main event but it is only a couple of years since Cork launched themselves to the top by winning this title. I saw both Donegal and Laois against Meath. Donegal were the most impressive side in the second tier until Laois taught them the time of day two weeks ago. That will have benefited Donegal who must have felt that it was all too easy.
Laois have adopted a very structured game under Justin McNulty and this brings two young ambitious managers together as Jim McGuinness seems to have Donegal playing a more direct style. A game to get in early for. Donegal for me.
Sunday Indo Sport