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The Dubs can seize the day

HERE we go then, into the breach once more. This close-but-no-cigar Cork team will never have a more inviting chance to achieve their All-Ireland 'destiny'. Conversely this Dublin team, for all their youth and rawness and various chinks, may never have a better chance either.

Thankfully, this observer isn't quite wrinkly enough to belong to the Latin generation, but a well-known phrase from the same language neatly encapsulates both tomorrow's first semi-final and the overall race for Sam. Carpe Diem. Seize the day.

Ever since Dublin's stunning quarter-final ambush of Tyrone, a variety of cautionary messages have emanated from either the Dublin camp itself or the capital at large. We have been told this is "bonus territory" for Dublin at such an early stage in their drastic overhaul. We have been reminded of all those Tyrone wides, Martin Penrose's shot off the crossbar, the fortuitous rebound to Eoghan O'Gara, all as evidence that there was still a wafer-thin line between five-point victory and another heartbreaking defeat at the quarter-final stage.

And then we've been warned about Cork. The form team through all of 2009 until the All-Ireland final hiccup itself. The form team of last spring. The All-Ireland favourites before a ball was kicked last May, and favourites again now that their oppressive Kerry shadow and Tyrone have exited stage left.

In a nutshell, so the theory goes, this is Cork's game to lose.

Theory doesn't always translate into 'logical' results, however, certainly not so during this weirdly captivating All-Ireland race. Several teams written out of the equation last June -- namely Kildare, Down and Dublin -- have launched spectacular recovery missions to make the semi-finals.

All three bring form, momentum and burgeoning belief to the last-four table. Can the same be said of Cork?

In a word, no. They were the better team in the drawn Munster semi-final in Killarney but couldn't close the deal. For long spells of the replay, they again looked poised for victory ... and again, they couldn't hammer the stake through Kerry's heart.

This provincial failure was obviously not fatal to Corkonian prospects but raised doubts about their All-Ireland credentials. Conor Counihan has a deep squad but did he know his strongest 15? Were they cute enough or sufficiently clinical? Were the newcomers up to the mark, or would Counihan be forced to revert to some of the old guard?

More than two months on, after an underwhelming back door campaign, we are still asking some of the same questions.

More positively for Cork, the Roscommon game looks to have answered some of these questions for Counihan himself. The team selected for Croke Park duty tomorrow is closer to the one that finished the quarter-final and looks better equipped to push on from here.

True, despite his inclusion, Graham Canty almost certainly won't feature because of his hamstring injury. He will be a loss -- for his football ability and even more so for his indefatigable leadership -- but his likely absence is not a bolt from the blue. There has been time to plan accordingly. Speaking of which, that three-week break may ultimately prove a Godsend for a team that initially looked jaded from their extra-time exploits against Limerick.

There are other reasons for Cork confidence and Dublin wariness. First up, the National League encounter in Páirc Uí Rinn last March. Dublin trailed by six points after an entertaining first half and eventually lost by seven. Perhaps the most unnerving aspect, for Sky Blue fans, was Dublin's inability to make any inroads (bar Bernard Brogan's individual goal) into that Cork lead during a second half which came across as an exercise in damage limitation.

Back then at least, as they adjusted to their new defensive shape and mindset, Pat Gilroy's crew were ill-equipped to reel in heavyweight rivals who had raced well clear. In all likelihood, the same 'weakness' remains even though Dublin did manage to overturn a seven-point deficit against Wexford (don't mention the war!) and come back from four adrift of Armagh.

So the message for Dublin is clear. Hang on to those Cork coat-tails for dear life. Don't let them establish a commanding lead, for that will have the dual effect of bolstering Cork's potentially suspect self-belief and forcing Dublin out of their defensive shell.

A quick rewind of the Páirc Uí Rinn DVD throws up another curious sight: Michael Darragh Macauley making a seemingly half-hearted and ineffectual lunge at Paddy Kelly as the latter waltzes through Dublin's defence and then offloads for Paul Kerrigan to score Cork's second goal.

We say curious because we doubt if any Dublin player has produced more tackles or turnovers than Macauley this summer. He sums up the devotion to ceaseless toil of this new-look team. They may possess the standout forward of 2010 in Bernard Brogan but, even as far back as last spring, their marquee assassin had bought into the Gilroy gospel. Whatever about the boom-and-bust years of recent past, the "no 'I' in team" motif now applies to Dublin.

That honesty of effort will get you so far; Dublin need more again to reach a first final since '95. Clearly, Cork will have been busy hatching plans for the younger Brogan -- who may be shadowed by Michael Shields and double-teamed into the bargain. Their top scorer still has the two-footed talent to make his mark, but others will have to share the burden. The mercurial Eoghan O'Gara may have to poach another goal; in all likelihood, they will need Alan Brogan to rediscover more of his old confident sparkle and chip in with a three-point haul.

At the other end, too, the sight of Pearse O'Neill rampaging through the middle could well signal the death knell of Dublin's title aspirations. Ger Brennan has enjoyed a solid campaign since that double-yellow Wexford blip and we suspect that he'll hold the centre, initially at least -- if only because the recalled Cian O'Sullivan will be required on the wing to cancel out the pace of Kerrigan.

So, time for the big call. If Dublin cough away as many soft frees as they conceded against Tyrone, then Daniel Goulding and Donncha O'Connor will probably make them pay the ultimate price. And yet, for all their semi-final experience and the memory of how they can play -- Tyrone last August springs readily to mind -- Cork have been dogged by uncertain form.

Dublin's ferocious work ethic will ensure this is no lark in the park. If they can curtail Cork in the middle-third, then what seemed impossible last June will come within tantalising reach.

Here goes with a leap of faith ... Bernard and the boys to sneak it!

DUBLIN: S Cluxton; M Fitzsimons, R O'Carroll, P McMahon; K Nolan, G Brennan, C O'Sullivan; R McConnell, MD Macauley; N Corkery, A Brogan, B Cullen; D Henry (captain) E O'Gara, B Brogan.

CORK: A Quirke; R Carey, M Shields, J Miskella; N O'Leary, G Canty (captain), P Kissane; A O'Connor, A Walsh; P Kerrigan, P O'Neill, P Kelly; D Goulding, C Sheehan, D O'Connor.

ODDS: Dublin 13/8, Draw 15/2, Cork 4/6

VERDICT: Dublin by one