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Lessons to be learned

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WHAT'S seldom is ... well ... not so wonderful for the Dublin footballers. Back in their Croke Park stomping ground, Jim Gavin's great entertainers played with all of their trademark 'swash' but – for once – it was the All-Ireland champions who buckled first in the home straight.

Where Dublin have perfected the art of tilting precariously balanced contests in favour of blue, here it was Cork's turn to paint the town red on Saturday night.

Where, time and again, we have seen the priceless value of Gavin's bench, this time a deadly duo of Rebel replacements – Donal Óg Hodnett and Colm O'Neill – made the ultimate difference.

And where Dublin under Gavin has frequently lived by the 'shootout' sword and thrived, here they died by it, on a 1-17 to 0-18 scoreline.

Eighteen points would seal many Allianz League contests ... but it wasn't quite enough when pitted against the first-half sniping of John Hayes (1-3 inside 26 minutes), the close-to-flawless place-kicking of Daniel Goulding (0-7, including a majestic hat-trick midway through the first half) and the crucial four points shared between Hodnett and O'Neill, the latter offering us uplifting affirmation that no amount of ACL agony will keep a good man down.

Thus, Brian Cuthbert's merry men returned south with the massive adrenaline-boost that comes with lowering the champions in their own backyard. Cork may be in transition, but they've six points from six and already are a lot closer to a Division One semi-final berth than a basement battle.

And Dublin? Well, given their four-point haul, clearly all is not lost in the short-term and their manager didn't foresee any lasting consequences either from what was Dublin's first defeat (apologies to the O'Byrne Cup) in 50 weeks.

"Not at all," Gavin insisted when asked if this latest rare reversal might set them back. "There were many of those games that could have gone either way last year, and we are acutely aware of it as well.

LESSONS

"The big thing for us is that we take away some lessons from today," he added. "We need to be more efficient and economical in front of goal, and that's one thing we carried on from last year and we need to keep working on."

The above synopsis pinpoints one obvious area for improvement as Dublin prepare for another HQ encounter with Kildare next Saturday: accuracy.

Initially, they couldn't miss against Cork, as their inside trio of Kevin McManamon, Ciarán Kilkenny and the mesmeric Cormac Costello shared seven points from play in the space of eight bewitching minutes. The visitors had opened a two-point lead in no time, but now found themselves 0-7 to 0-3 adrift.

But Cork's own brand of swift foot-passing and rapier movement soon gained traction, aided by an incremental dip in Dublin's conversion rate. They had five wides by the midpoint and 13 in total by the final whistle, contrasting with Cork's tidier tally of seven misses.

Finishing, though, is not likely to prove Dublin's Achilles heel over the long haul of 2014. Sorting out their full-back line looks a more pressing conundrum.

All told, between starters and subs, Cork full-forwards amassed 1-8 from play while Dublin full-backs coughed up another four frees converted by Goulding. At times, they were poorly protected, but it's still a worry ... suffice to say Rory O'Carroll can't return quickly enough.

In his ongoing absence, new No 3 Seán George lasted just 25 minutes. He may struggle to win his place back, given that Saturday's trial came after the tribulations of his red card against Kerry.

The Ballymun young gun had already leaked 0-3 to Hayes before rashly coming behind his clubmate Philly McMahon in challenging for a high ball won by Hayes: cue a glorious goal chance for Brian Hurley, magnificently repelled around the corner by Stephen Cluxton.

George's almost immediate replacement by Jack McCaffrey resulted in Jonny Cooper's return to corner-back haunts. He should stay there.

True, within a minute, Hayes had struck the game's only goal, but thereafter Cooper suffocated him and was subbed after 51 minutes, as Dublin seemed to be preparing a power surge.

They devoured seven consecutive Ken O'Halloran kickouts, forcing Cork to replace both midfielders while enabling the hosts to reel off four unanswered points, capped by Paul Hudson's 59th-minute equaliser.

But a rare Cooper mistake would tip the scales in Cork's favour. His attempted handpass was intercepted by Hodnett, who accelerated away to edge Cork into a 68th-minute lead.

All that remained was O'Neill's brilliant coup de grace.


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