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Cleary says Cork must start strong against Dublin: ‘The first fifteen minutes here will be crucial’

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Cork manager John Cleary appreciates the enormity of the task facing his team against Dublin on Saturday in Croke Park

Cork manager John Cleary appreciates the enormity of the task facing his team against Dublin on Saturday in Croke Park

Cork manager John Cleary appreciates the enormity of the task facing his team against Dublin on Saturday in Croke Park

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How far Cork have come over the last couple of months will be tested this Saturday evening when the Rebel footballers head to Croke Park to take on the still mighty Dublin team for a place in the last four of the race for the Sam Maguire Cup.

After losing out heavily to their old rivals, Kerry, in the Munster semi-final in early May the men in red have been on something of a charm offensive with some credible winning displays as they look to fight their way back into the public consciousness.

Cork’s senior footballers have been the poor relations of Cork GAA in recent years but now that they are the only show in town (the hurlers bowing out to Galway last weekend) all eyes will be on the Leesiders as they look to take down the most impressive side of the last decade.

This week, interim manager John Cleary spoke to The Corkman about what he expects this weekend and how the team’s injury list is shaping up.

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“We pretty much are the same on the injury front now as we were before the last game really. Sean Meehan is back doing a bit of training but this one may have come a bit too soon for Sean this weekend. The same really for Killian O’Hanlon, so we will make a call on those two later in the week.

“Meehan in particular is ahead of schedule I suppose. He is done an awful lot of work there and has been on the field for a week or so but for a game of this pace and this importance it might be too soon,” Cleary said.

Cork saw off Louth and Limerick in their last two games – two Qualifier fixtures since that Munster semi-final loss to Kerry – but Dublin will be a huge step up in both quality and style of play.

“Louth had been impressive and won the League (Division 3) and they had hammered Carlow, kind of came unstuck against Kildare but when they came down to Cork they kind of surprised us how they set up. It took us a good while to get to grips with it.

“It was important that we got through that one at home, against a side similar to our standard. The whole group gained in confidence from having that championship win,” the Cork manager said.

The Louth and Limerick wins showed that Cork with patience can break down a mass defensive but with Dublin the set-up is likely to be very different, something that Cleary is well aware needs a different response.

“In fairness Dublin do often have a defensive system but they are also very fluid – they can attack in big numbers. Eleven of the guys that are likely to be there for Dublin the next day were part of their six-in-a-row campaign so they are a long time on the go, they know what they are doing and they wouldn’t have won what they did if they had been a totally defensive team. Dublin have a very good defence and a very good attack and that is why they have been so successful.”

Playing in Pairc Uí Chaoimh in recent games will have helped Cork prepare for the expanses that seem to be in Croke Park, but even the Leeside venue can’t make a team fully appreciate what it is like to play in front of a big crowd at GAA headquarters.

“We had two good runs out in Pairc Uí Chaoimh against Louth and Limerick but Croke Park is the next step up. As everyone says, there appears to be those wide open spaces there – it is something that we have spoken about and something we have factored into our preparations, but it is really only when the game gets going we will see how we can adapt to it.

“2019 was the last time we were playing there and a few of the lads here now played that day, but there are other guys that never played there at all but really we are all looking forward to it and to the challenge that Dublin will bring.

“The Saturday night in front of a big Dublin crowd won’t have been something that many of our lads won’t have experienced – definitely in the last couple of years. It will be something that our lads will embrace, the big crowd, get on with it, and as I said we do have some lads that will be used to it and they will hopefully bring the other lads on.”

While Cork will be up against it this Saturday and the odds really do look to favour the home side, Cleary is adamant that Cork need to go up and show their wares – and the rest will take care of itself.

“At the start of the year we would definitely have taken this (quarter-final place). Some might say that we were fortunate to get the lucky side of the draw but every day you go out you have to try and get over the opposition, and for our lads to be going to Croke Park to play Dublin in late June has to be seen as a good thing for this side and for the development of this side.

“It was never the case that we were going to draw a side that wasn’t formidable at this stage. That is what we are in this for, to play the best, to see what we can do, give it our best shot and see where that takes us. This is where the group wants to be and hopefully we can do ourselves justice on Saturday.”

While all of the 70-plus minutes scheduled for this Saturday are likely to test Cork, there is little doubting that the first 15 or so will be crucial to Cork’s chances, according to Cleary.

“The first fifteen minutes here will be crucial. If you look at the last two games between Meath and Kildare the games were pretty much over after fifteen so it’s a thing we are hoping won’t happen to us the next day. Having said that, Dublin are a fabulous team with tremendous experience so the challenge for us is to match them as best we can because we know if we are not firing on all cylinders and on our game it could be a very long evening.”


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