Gavin to uncork 'away day' genie
DEPENDING on which side of the Sky Blue/Rebel Red fence you fall on, you can make polar opposite predictions to suggest a flying league start for the footballers of Dublin/Cork this weekend.
You may cite recent history: Jim Gavin has an unblemished league record in the Dublin hotseat and tomorrow launches the chase for a third consecutive Division One title. Not bad for a county that hadn't won the damn thing since Jim was a whippersnapper wing-forward in 1993 …
Then again, Cork scarcely qualify as NFL mugs. Before Gavin arrived to wreck their buzz, they were the kings of spring, having landed a hat-trick of league baubles on the spin … four if you include their Division Two success in 2009.
Given this five-year top-flight monopoly, surely it's tempting to dress up tomorrow as a collision of unstoppable force meets immovable object?
Not quite. True, the Dubs were unstoppable when launching a spectacular comeback during the second half of last year's league semi-final but Cork, on the day, proved the most portable of opponents. They caved in/rolled over/parted the red sea - choose your metaphor - and hence a ten-point lead mutated into a seven-point defeat in barely half-an-hour. "We were the authors of our own downfall," Cork manager Brian Cuthbert admitted to The Herald this week.
All of which sounds ominous when assessing Cork's stomach for battle if the going gets tough tomorrow. Except … this match is taking place on Leeside and that paints all pre-match assessments in a very different hue. Almost invariably a rich red.
The last time Dublin won on Rebel soil, it was November 1990. Páirc Uí Rinn wouldn't even exist as a GAA venue for another two-and-a-half years, as Cork county board went about redeveloping the famous old Flower Lodge soccer ground.
Since then, Dublin have sometimes lost narrowly and sometimes heavily but it's been the same recidivist story: seven league defeats in a row, including the 1999 league final when Gavin was playing.
It's hard to quantify why certain counties always seem to struggle in certain places and why hoodoos even exist. At certain junctures over the past quarter-century, Dublin were clearly inferior to Cork - more often than not this was not the case. Dublin might rout the Rebels on home turf only to be whipped away; in 2012, their last lark by the Lee, they came as All-Ireland holders and still lost.
Much has been made in recent years - correctly, it should be stressed - about the unfair 'home comforts' enjoyed by a Dublin team that gets to play most of its matches in Croke Park. Not just every championship round, but even a majority of league outings: Croker hosted seven of their nine NFL games (knockout rounds included) in 2013 and last spring's figure was six out of nine.
This year the balance has tilted slightly with four of their seven regulation fixtures on enemy terrain. In fairness, our Sky Blue tourists have already been to Portarlington, Navan and Newbridge on the last three Sundays - and lived to tell the tale.
Cork away, though, is a more daunting challenge and Gavin must hope that Dublin's pre-season build-up (winning the O'Byrne Cup, albeit with difficulty, whereas Cork walked into a Waterford ambush in the McGrath Cup) will leave them better 'prepped' as they seek to finally lay their Leeside ghost.