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Rebels look ready to capitalise on Mourne men's poor back door form

FOR the purposes of analysis, looking backwards is an unavoidable habit. Especially when the respective All-Ireland finalists of last year meet at a much earlier juncture of the season -- as is the case here.

Cork have wintered with Sam Maguire and Down -- a county for whom we had routinely checked for vital signs over the past decade until last summer -- were left with nothing.

Most counties might see progression to September's showpiece as something to shout about, particularly when they are coming from as low a base as the Mournemen.

But old football habits die particularly hard in Down and expectation is but a single decent win away.

Thus far, Cork have fulfilled their usual role. So difficult to beat in the league, they won that competition despite coming back from a team holiday around the same time it began.

They trashed a bit of Munster cannon fodder and then went to Killarney and did what every Cork team has done there for a decade and a half -- lost.



BREAKTHROUGH

So really, they're not showing signs of being any better or any worse than they were at this point in their breakthrough season last year. And if their form is some cause for worry, well, so too was it a source of angst right up until last year's final.

Cork, remember, don't tend to be particularly convincing winners. But they are winners all the same and that habit is a handy one to have. Right through the All-Ireland series last year, they mastered the art of riding out a storm, picking their moments, exploiting a team's vulnerabilities and finishing a point or two up and for that, they were crowned All-Ireland champions.

Ciarán Sheehan is a major loss, particularly with Colm O'Neill out too and Cork's attacking bench options now appear much thinner on the ground.

The doubts over Graham Canty's selection won't help either but if any man can rise to the occasion and put a lack of gametime and a particularly unimpressive vein of form behind him, Canty is probably that man.

Down, meanwhile, have been referencing last year all week. Usually, posed with such questions, managers and players sidestep these sort of emotive comments but asked whether revenge was very much on the agenda for Croke Park today, James McCartan somewhat surprisingly replied: "It is a natural emotion."



MOTIVATION

"Cork taking an All-Ireland medal out of the pockets of our guys last year would be a motivation for them and that will come from within them rather than having it pointed out to them."

There is strong word that Ambrose Rogers may start his first match for Down this year today and in the face of the massive physical punishment usually meted out by the Rebels, his inclusion would be invaluable.

Liam Doyle and Danny Hughes are doubts because of hamstring injuries, while Ronan Murtagh is still struggling with an ankle problem and Hughes, in particular, would be a massive loss.

Cork will see the scenario thus: four games in Croke Park to retain an All-Ireland and they were so efficient there, it's hard to see them not at least going close again.

Down have already shocked one Munster giant in the past 12 months and it's not beyond the boundaries of possibility that they might do it again.

But their qualifier form has been poor, to say the least, and Cork are purpose built to capitalise on such frailties.

ODDS: Cork 2/5, Draw 17/2, Down 5/2

VERDICT: Cork

CORK: A Quirke; J O'Sullivan, G Canty, M Shields; N O'Leary, J Miskella, P Kissane; A O'Connor, A Walsh; F Goold, P Kelly, P O'Neill; D Goulding, D O'Connor, P Kerrigan.

DOWN: tbc.


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