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Cork formation change may prove too risky

REMEMBERING is easy; it's forgetting that is hard. The 2006 All Ireland U-21 Championship Final was won by Mayo when they beat Cork by a margin of two points in an end-to-end decider in Ennis.

It was a game that was played on the edge with no quarter given. A game that involved many of the current crop of players from both Mayo and Cork senior teams. But most importantly, a game that still lingers in the memory of these players.

This old rivalry will add a bit of spice to this Sunday's encounter. Already this week we have seen shadow boxing from both counties following the appointment of referee Cormac Reilly. The recent league encounters between them have also had their moments, letting tension build up between both camps.

Cork come in to the game as rank outsiders and rightly so. They appear a bit of a mess at the moment. A team on the ropes. A team punch drunk and disillusioned.

Dublin hit them with the first blow in the National League semi final. Kerry put them on their knees in the Munster final. They have received their standing count. They are on their last legs. So will it be their old sparring partners Mayo from eight years ago that finally knock them out with a sucker punch?

Hunger

Mayo are back in Croke Park and they still have that hunger to succeed. Credit where credit is due, they have shown character after two All-Ireland final defeats to bounce back and take their fourth Connacht provincial title in a row. When they get off the coach in Croke Park on Sunday afternoon, the monkey will only be too delighted to jump on their back once again as they enter the cauldron of the All Ireland Series.

Have Mayo improved as a team over the last 12 months? Probably not, is the answer and if anything, the graph appears to be static. James Horan reverted to his tried and trusted lieutenants by selecting Andy Moran and Alan Dillon for the Connacht Final against Galway and this was an indication he is opting for consistency rather than gambling on new youthful talent.

However, Horan's team are still a very organised and structured outfit that will prove hard to beat. Cork on the other hand are talented, full of ability but look disorganised and lacking belief in any system of play.

Brian Cuthbert, last week, took the conservative or safe approach and went back to a defensive template utilising two half forwards as sweepers together with the use of short kick outs. We can only assume that this tactic was in preparation for this weekend as it certainly wasn't employed to combat a potent Sligo forward line.

Last weekend's radical change of approach and philosophy confirmed certain elements of Cuthbert thinking at the present time.

Firstly, he has no confidence in his full-back line having been taken to the cleaners against Kerry.

Secondly, he does not trust his midfielders to win enough primary possession in the air. Lastly, it is clear from recent changes to his team over the last three championship games that he is unsure of his best fifteen at the business end of the year.

Considering all this, I expect Mayo will respect Cork. They will respect the talent within their ranks and their potential ability to perform on any given day. But as they done against Galway, they will also try to dictate the terms of this game.

Cork appear to be preparing a game plan for All-Ireland quarter-final that is untried or tested against top opposition. If they opt to drop back Colm O'Driscoll and Mark Collins, they are extending an invitation to Donal Vaughan and Lee Keegan to support the Mayo attack and this could prove to be detrimental to the Cork cause.

Cork will also be expected to vary their kick out strategy and Ken O'Halloran will seek to go short to avoid the mass of bodies that Mayo always commit to the midfield area with great success. If Cork are ponderous or slow in defence, the Mayo forwards will be capable of playing a high line and they will force Cork into turnovers in their defence.

The radical change of approach by Cork may be intended to get the foundations of their defence solid which would seem the logical approach after their performance against Kerry.

However, these changes against a seasoned Mayo outfit could very well be counter-productive.

Adapt

Mayo, Donegal and Dublin are all comfortable in their roles as individuals and as a team. These teams are prepared and can adapt to plan B at ease if required.

Cork do not have a 'Plan B' and if Mayo expose their weaknesses early this game, it could open up old wounds from their game against Kerry in Páirc Uí Chaoimh.

Some are giving Cork an outside chance based on the low expectation and the element of surprise. I am sorry I cannot see it happen; Mayo could pull through with a bit of ease.


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