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A perilous date for Dubs - Pillar

WHENEVER it was that Dublin emerged from their Mayo hangover and turned bleary-eyed back to the big bad world, two fairly daunting realities stared back.

1) This weekend, they need a result to qualify for the League semi-finals and, perhaps more crucially, a retaliatory performance from last week's shambles in Castlebar to salvage something form an uncharacteristically oscillating spring.

2) The pursuit of said goals incorporates a trip to Cork, a pursuit which traditionally has proved about as fruitful as a child's Easter Sunday breakfast.

"It's funny, one of the things - and it's a strange one to note - is that there is no atmosphere when you play Cork," notes Paul Caffrey, who tried and failed to win in Cork twice as a manager and twice more as a selector under Tommy Lyons.

"I remember going there with Tommy in Páirc Uí Chaoimh and there wasn't 400 people there. Under me, we played them in Páirc Uí Rínn and there wasn't 300 people at the game.

"Zero atmosphere because the Cork football people don't come out and follow and it's not a trip a lot of Dubs undertake. Players find it a bit strange. It feels a bit like a challenge match."

Technically, Caffrey is the last Dublin manager to record a win on Leeside. But Dublin's victory was awarded without even leaving the capital back in 2008 when the still striking Cork footballers granted a walkover and the points.

The last Dublin team to actually go to Cork and win a competitive match was Kevin Heffernan's 1983 vintage and their famous All-Ireland semi-final replay trouncing of the Rebels in Páirc Uí Chaoimh. The intervening 29 years have brought nothing more than a couple of draws and plenty of pain for Dublin.

"Cork play this powerful, fast brand of football. And it probably matches the way Dublin play," Caffrey points out. "It's like for like. We struggled to stick with them, and that's being honest.

"They just run over you. They have very good ball-carriers. They're very dominant in the skies from kick-outs. They're hard to counteract. Unless you're at full-pelt, it's a hard place to go. And you need to be at full strength. It's a very hard place to put young players in because of the power with which Cork play.

Which is exactly the scenario Pat Gilroy faces on Sunday. A mixture of injury and suspension leaves him shorn of four (Paul Flynn, Barry Cahill, Alan and Bernard Brogan) of his All-Ireland winning attacking alignment and the ideal of gradually blooding promising youngsters alongside hardened veterans is simply not an option.

"It's all well and good saying to your bench players 'this is your chance' but it's not the way to be giving them that chance," Caffrey insists. "The last round of the League, a must-win game against one of the top teams in the country. The odds are stacked against you.

"The Dean Rocks and Johnny Coopers and Paddy Andrews and Dean Kellys - who will all probably start next week ... that's a tough ask to throw them all in together and ask them to turn it around for you. You saw what happened in last year's League final when Dublin finished with a weakened, very inexperienced team.

"You expect them to be well up for it in terms of a heightened work rate, but you do have to look at what quality is there and how that will contribute to the performance."


Discipline - or Dublin's lack of it - has haunted them since the year's turn but Caffrey sees the issue from two opposing angles. He accepts it is a habit Dublin need to eradicate before it becomes permanent but he reckons it's also an opportunity to nip it in the bud before the consequences become more severe.

"You have to articulate and you have to get players to articulate what's going on," he explains. "Because as a manager, you can't just be preaching. Players have to understand.

"I would feel these lessons learned at this time of year are very important because they won't cost you an All-Ireland but they could sew the seeds by letting players know they can expect twice the same in the championship."

Caffrey adds: "When you're striving to attain something, you tend to be very, very focused. But they achieved the ultimate and without knowing it, some of them are more relaxed then they were last year. You can say guard against it, but the only judge of whether it has been guarded against is in terms of performances."