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Returning Blues can bolster champions and seal return to showpiece

ALLIANZ FOOTBALL LEAGUE

DIVISION 1 SEMI-FINAL

DUBLIN v CORK

(Croke Park, Tomorrow 4.0, live TG4)

TO lose once in the same spring to a transitional Cork may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose twice could be construed as carelessness. So said Oscar Wilde – in a surreal parallel universe – about Jim Gavin's Dublin footballers. Or at least that's what he might say if the All-Ireland champions falter again tomorrow.

However, such an eventuality doesn't look such an outlandish leap of faith if you view this year's regulation league in its totality.

Here's a quick hit-list of reasons why Cork may fancy their chances of another Croker ambush.

1. They've already outgunned Dublin in an early March shootout, 1-17 to 0-18. Ergo, they are unlikely to be quaking in their Predators here.

2. Their seven-match campaign has featured a greater level of consistency than the up-and-down Dubs, reflected in their respective tallies, 11 points versus nine.

3. This consistency extended to Cork's most recent performance, an emphatic 10-point demolition of Kerry, on a day when Dublin achieved their own notable away victory (against Tyrone) in more erratic fashion.

4. Brian Hurley was accumulating points for fun in Tralee, eight in total, seven from play, via right foot, left and fist.

5. After Omagh last Sunday, Jim Gavin confirmed that his U21 contingent won't be involved this weekend. On that basis he must plan without Cormac Costello (who shredded the Cork full-back line in the early stages of last month's encounter) and Jack McCaffrey, to name just two.

At which point, we feel duty-bound to stall your headlong rush to the bookies, tempted by those 7/4 Rebel odds.

UGLY

In their last two matches, Dublin have revealed a penchant for drawing against all odds and then winning ugly. Durability in adversity – a quality not always seen in defending All-Ireland champions – has propelled them into the semi-finals.

The flip side is that Dublin were forced to extricate themselves from tight corners because of their own earlier traumas against Mayo and Tyrone. More of the sporadic same probably won't be enough against Cork.

Last Sunday, 14 heroic men in blue won the last quarter against a previously dominant Mayo by 3-3 to 1-3. In Omagh, Dublin carried on where they left off in Croker, hitting a shellshocked Tyrone for another 3-3 inside 16 minutes. Effectively they'd scored twice as many goals in one half of football as they managed in the rest of this campaign (three).

What followed during the second and third quarters, though, was emblematic of their stop-start spring, as scores dried up and they allowed Tyrone, even while facing a near-gale, come storming back into contention.

Almost at the death, Dublin preserved their two-in-a-row league ambitions by dint of Diarmuid Connolly's calmness and class. That's one reason why Dublin might just edge tomorrow's rematch: Connolly wasn't available for the earlier league meeting.

Here's another reason: Rory O'Carroll wasn't available for that earlier game either but now he's back and he brings an authority and tight-marking tenacity to a Dublin full-back line that otherwise frequently looks ripe for plunder. Suffice to say, with the reigning All Star full-back as his shadow, Hurley will scarcely enjoy the same latitude as last Sunday.

Two other current All Stars – Paul Flynn after his recent concussion and Bernard Brogan – may be available to feature in some capacity, having missed the aforementioned Cork game. Another, Stephen Cluxton, will be back from suspension. This time, Dublin might just have sufficient artillery to shade an intriguing semi-final.

ODDS: Dublin 8/13, Draw 9/1, Cork 7/4

VERDICT: Dublin


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