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Lights out, round two, here we go


Cork's Conor Lehane, left, and Dublin's Ryan O'Dwyer at an Allianz Hurling League Media Day at Nowlan Park, Kilkenny

Cork's Conor Lehane, left, and Dublin's Ryan O'Dwyer at an Allianz Hurling League Media Day at Nowlan Park, Kilkenny


Cork's Conor Lehane, left, and Dublin's Ryan O'Dwyer at an Allianz Hurling League Media Day at Nowlan Park, Kilkenny

The form-book can be thrown out the window when it comes to predicting how next Sunday's National Hurling league semi-final between Cork and Dublin at Nowlan Park is going to turn out.

On the basis of what happened in their previous meeting at Croke Park just a few short weeks ago, the outcome would appear to be a foregone conclusion, given that Cork were by far the better team on that occasion.

Yet, Dublin went into the game on the back of a couple of convincing wins over last year's All-Ireland finalists Tipperary and Kilkenny, so the manner of their slump against the Rebels couldn't have been anticipated, all the more so since Jimmy Barry-Murphy's men had failed to measure up in their opening assignment against the Cats at Pairc Uí Rinn.

Dublin lost their next match as well, but, forced to play the entire second half with 14 men, they put in a decent performance in Ennis against Clare, with the home side's numerical advantage taking its toll in the last quarter when they came from five points behind to win by 2-22 to 2-20.

Since then, Dublin have done much to dispel the notion that their dismal display against Cork might be a major blow to their confidence and morale, as they got back to winning ways at Galway's expense in their last game in the group stage, and they really turned on the style when thrashing Limerick to the tune of 1-25 to 0-16 in the quarter-final.

It suggests they are now firing on all cylinders again, and it goes without saying they will relish the opportunity to make amends for their abysmal performance last month when they renew rivalry with Cork.

There is no disputing that Cork were the complete masters as they romped home by 0-34 to 1-20 in their clash with the Dubs in Round 3. It was a performance that obviously pleased JBM, but the Rebel boss was quick to put things into perspective in the wake of it, acknowledging that Dublin simply didn't come out of the blocks on the night.

"That can happen to any team in this league, because it's so competitive, and we certainly weren't happy with our performance against Kilkenny in the opening round. We improved a lot for the next game against Clare, but what we now want is to be a bit more consistent," he remarked.

It would be fair to say that Cork have been reasonably consistent in the interim, as they made it three wins on the trot when accounting for Galway up in Salthill - a result which guaranteed them inclusion in the quarter-finals.

They appeared to be on course to claim Tipperary's scalp as well when they led by four goals with twenty minutes remaining in a dead-rubber fixture at Pairc Uí Rinn, but they were outscored by 2-9 to 0-2 in what was an amazing conclusion by any standards.

The manner of Cork's defeat was a bit deflating, but there was no reason to be unduly alarmed by their late fade-out in a contest containing little more cut and thrust than an exhibition game.

Overall, Cork performed well against Tipp, and they displayed admirable resolve when advancing to the last four in the face of a spirited challenge from Wexford at Pairc Uí Rinn last time out.

Playing into a strong wind, they trailed by eight points at one stage in the first half, but, having cut the deficit to six before the break, they kept the momentum going on the turnover to run out winners by four, 0-18 to 0-14.

Getting the job done against a Wexford side that hadn't produced anything out of the ordinary in qualifying from Division 1B was nothing to write home about, but the bottom line was that Cork prevailed and were full value for their victory on a day when the quality of the hurling suffered due to the blustery conditions.

Dublin's display in dispatching Limerick was much more compelling, so, for the second time this season, they will again head into an encounter with Cork on a bit of a high.

It remains to be seen if they will be brought crashing down to earth by the Munster champions this time, but, on a mission of atonement, they will surely give a much better account of themselves as they attempt to maintain the progress they have made under Ger Cunningham's stewardship up to this point.

After Dublin's season fell way short of expectations in 2014, Cunningham - part of Jimmy Barry-Murphy's backroom team when Cork put the Dubs to the sword in an epic All-Ireland semi final two years ago - assumed the reins of control from Anthony Daly, who felt he had gone as far as he could go with the side.

The early indications are that the former Cork goalkeeper has got his new charges moving in the right direction again, and to have qualified for the knock-out stages of the league, given how competitive Division 1A was always going to be, is a definite positive.

To a lesser extent, Cork needed a decent league campaign as well in order to prevent any erosion of self-belief stemming from their tame capitulation to Tipperary in last year's All-Ireland semi-final.

They looked a class-act against Dublin, serving up a performance which, more than any produced in their other five league games this season, confirmed that their feeble showing against Tipp last August wasn't a true reflection of their worth. That shouldn't have been an issue of course in light of how they had shaped up earlier in the 2014 championship.

For the first time this season, it's expected that JBM and his co-mentors will have a full squad to pick from for Sunday, and the probability is there will be an immediate recall for Mark Ellis, Stephen McDonnell and Alan Cadogan, all of whom were unavailable for the quarter-final.

It's likely to be much the same team as that which rode roughshod over Dublin the last day when Luke O'Farrell's sparkling display at full-forward might be enough to get him in ahead of Paudie O'Sullivan in an attack that virtually picks itself otherwise at the moment

Patrick Horgan, Seamus Harnedy and Conor Lehane will obviously be accommodated up front where Rob O'Shea, having also made a big impression in the previous clash with the Dubs, deserves to get another chance to lay down a marker at wing-forward.

It's equally hard to envisage any changes at midfield where Aidan Walsh and the dynamic Daniel Kearney are rapidly developing into a very formidable unit, and in the half-back line where Ellis will surely be flanked by Lorcan McLoughlin and newcomer Cormac Murphy - who has ticked all the right boxes in his debut season so far - once again.

Shane O'Neill and Stephen McDonnell are bankers to be fronting Anthony Nash, but it will be interesting to see whether Damien Cahalane, rookie William Kearney or Conor O'Sullivan - who kept his end up well when lining out against Dublin a few weeks ago - gets the nod to complete the full-back line.

While the team for the championship appears to be taking shape at this stage, nothing is set in stone, and there is certainly no shortage of competition for places on the first fifteen.

The picture should be a bit clearer after Sunday when Cork are likely to find it much harder to get a result against a Dublin team that certainly didn't do themselves justice in their collision with the Rebels at Croke Park last month.