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Rebels to be driven by memory of past

WE could argue all week about whether the two best teams in Ireland have reached this year's final and perhaps Dublin and Kildare might raise their voices higher than most.

But they say the championship never lies and here we are as the third Sunday approaches with a hugely anticipated and intriguing match-up. So, who will win?

It has to be said Cork are providing lousy evidence to my inquiry. In fact, one might argue this is a Cork team in decline and point to their last high water mark being the semi-final win over Tyrone in 2009. If you take away a splendid league campaign, this year's championship offering has been, mostly, of the downhill variety.

It is amazing to note that since their surprise defeat to Fermanagh in 2004, Cork have lost in championship football only to Kerry in the interim. And lost all the games between them in Croke Park. Yet, the Ulster swagger men knocked the reigning champions out when they met them for the first time in recent history. Go figure?

With Sunday approaching, Cork nerves must be dangling a little as they realise they must produce a performance that they have failed to produce for the last 13 months. Heading into any final with such average form and lack of real confidence has to be a worry for players, management and supporters.

On the other hand, since Tyrone knocked Down out in Ulster, their graph has risen steadily culminating in two spectacular peaks on days when Kerry and Kildare fell. But Down will face a new pressure now - that of expectation. To date, Down could afford to approach each game as contests where they really had nothing to lose. That situation is no longer valid and don't let any player or manager tell you his team have nothing to lose on All-Ireland final day.

Cork are an exceptionally tall team in the middle eight of half-backs plus half-forwards and the two midfielders. They are strong runners, tough and keen in the tackle and will get their hands on lots of ball. It's then their problems start - their attacks lack penetration and are often ponderous with the wrong men (midfielders and defenders) often getting to take the shot on goal despite accurate forwards being available.

Down have no such problems. Their attacks are fast and furious with players using a rotating forward strategy where positions are exchanged regularly in an attempt to create mismatches. They have plenty of scoring forwards too: Danny Hughes, Mark Poland, Benny Coulter, Marty Clarke and Paul McComiskey know where the posts are and the subs they use invariably contribute to the total also. Look out for Ronan Murtagh and Conor Maginn when introduced.

Cork can score too but not as regularly from play as they should. Ciarán Sheehan, Paddy Kelly, Donnacha O'Connor, Paul Kerrigan and Daniel Goulding are not shy but a lot of the scores tend to come from frees. And they have no expert freetaker on board even though Donnacha O'Connor is showing real technique and nerve in this area.



DESERVES

Sick Bay has a few patients in residence and for two in particular Sunday might well be a difficult day. Graham Canty is trying so hard to make this final and lift a cup he richly deserves to do. He trained last night but only time will tell if the Rebels gamble on his fitness. He would be a massive loss.

Ambrose Rogers is almost certainly out of the frame and this is desperately disappointing and sad for the Down man.

It means Dan Gordon will remain at full-back and this further reduces the midfield options, an area where Cork appears to have limitless supply.

So, who will carry the cup out of the stadium?

Cork have the better defence, slightly better midfield but an inferior forward division. And forwards very often decide these fixtures, especially if one or two of the lesser-known get inspired and contibute two or three points each. I have no doubt Down edge the vote in this department.

But I am sticking with Cork because I believe their defence will do a better job on the Down forwards than vice versa. And I am sticking with Cork because of their massive experience differential.

And I am sticking with Cork because they will be driven by the savage hurt and real disappointment that comes from losing All-Ireland finals. Cork by four.


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