Sunday 25 February 2018

Experienced Cork team capable of really rattling Dubs

Cork’s John O’Rourke might expect to come up against Dublin defender Jack McCaffrey again on Saturday night. Picture: Sportsfile
Cork’s John O’Rourke might expect to come up against Dublin defender Jack McCaffrey again on Saturday night. Picture: Sportsfile

Noel Horgan

There is no disputing that the Cork footballers have enjoyed something of a dream start in this season's National League.

Playing an attractive brand of speedy, cohesive and constructive football, they have claimed maximum points from their two outings to date at the expense of Westmeath and Kildare.

As well as that, the management have taken the opportunity to run the rule over a total of 26 players, in keeping with Brian Cuthbert's pre-season promise that every member of the panel would be given a chance to make an impression over the course of the league campaign.

The new Rebel boss also said he would be hoping to win as many games as possible during the auditioning period, and that the twin target for Cork was to retain their Division 1 status and to get the strongest possible squad in place prior to the championship

It has all gone very much according to plan so far, although it can be hardly be regarded as a major surprise that Cork, with home advantage, accounted for Westmeath and Kildare in their first two games.

Not surprisingly, Cuthbert was quick to play down expectation levels in the wake of the win over Kildare, stressing that there were far stiffer tests ahead, starting with next Saturday night's showdown with All-Ireland champions Dublin at Croke Park.

The Dubs are also unbeaten after two games, and, while their victories over Kerry in Croker and Westmeath in Mullingar weren't especially convincing, it's already apparent they are intent on making a bold bid to collect all the game's top prizes for the second year in a row.

Under Jim Gavin's stewardship, they lost just one game, in Round 5 of the league against Tyrone, over the entire season in 2013, numbering Cork among their victims in both the league and championship.

They were missing the majority of last year's championship side for the games against Kerry and Westmeath, and that's likely to be the case again on Saturday night, but their strength-in-depth is such that it's still going to be extremely difficult for Cork to bring them down.

Cork won't have happy memories of their last two visits to the metropolis for a league game under lights, as they were flattered to finish six points adrift of the Dubs in 2011 and likewise last season.

The expectation is that they will shape up a lot better this time, and they are entitled to enter the fray with reasonable optimism on the basis of their encouraging form up to now.

With the Dubs supporters sure to be out in force, however, it's going to be a very intimidating atmosphere for the visitors, and it remains to be seen how they will cope.

Yet, Cork will field a fairly experienced team for the fixture, containing just three players - Alan Cronin, Noel Galvin and Conor Dorman - who haven't tasted championship action at the top level.

It shows eight changes from the side which lined out against Kildare, with the seasoned Aidan Walsh, Eoin Cadogan and Paul Kerrigan numbered among the raft of replacements.

Walsh and Cadogan, unavailable due to hurling commitments for the Kildare match, were bound to be recalled at midfield and full back respectively, while an injury to Donncha O'Connor has facilitated the restoration of Kerrigan, who didn't play well in the opener against Westmeath, on the '40.

With Michael Shields, who is still recovering from an injury sustained in the Westmeath game, joined on the casualty list by Clonakilty's Tom Clancy, the corner back berths will be filled by rookies Alan Cronin and Noel Galvin, both of whom showed up well when sprung from the bench against Kildare.

Conor Dorman impressed too on his first league start against the Lilywhites, and, with Cadogan returning at no.3, he had been handed the centre back slot, with Fintan Goold going from there to partner Walsh at midfield, resulting in the demotion of Andrew O'Sullivan and Ruairi Deane

Young Brian O'Driscoll makes way for Fermoy's Tomas Clancy - one of Cork's better players on his league debut against the Dubs 12 months ago - at wing back, while the up-and-coming Donal Og Hodnett, despite a couple of eye-catching displays against Westmeath and Kildare, is replaced by the more experienced John Hayes at corner forward.

While Brian Cuthbert made it clear from the outset that player rotation was a major part of his league plans, perhaps the team for the Dublin game has been picked, to a certain extent, with the hostile setting that Croke Park is going to be on Saturday night in mind.

Much attention will obviously be focused on how newcomers Cronin, Galvin and Dorman measure up at the back where the onus will be on Cadogan and James Loughrey to provide the leadership.

In light of both sides' penchant for open, expansive football, it promises to be a high-scoring contest.

And if Cork are to prevail, they will need big performances from Walsh at midfield, and such as Daniel Goulding, Brian Hurley. John O'Rourke - who, making his league debut, did well in last season's clash with Dublin and was in sparkling form last time out against Kildare - and Mark Collins in an attack that isn't lacking fire-power.


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