Friday 23 March 2018

All-Ireland semi-final preview

Cork v Dublin
Croke Park, 3.30

This is the kind of challenge Dublin were ill-equipped to deal with a year ago, and probably even a couple of months back. So why should it be different today?

There are a number of conspiring factors. Having gone through a form of football purgatory, Pat Gilroy has been rewarded with a team whose infusion of youth and raw-boned intensity is getting results. They go into the match on a rush of confidence, adrenaline and an almost cavalier spirit. As against Tyrone, they're free of the shackles of favouritism, knowing their season's account is already comfortably in credit.

The other issue giving Dublin hope is that Cork haven't had anything like the same drive and single-mindedness that was evident last season. The impact of the All-Ireland final defeat to Kerry may have been greater than they allowed. The positive spin on their subsequent failure to Kerry in Munster this year also seems misguided; in another test of character and mental resolve, they failed. True, they have outlasted Kerry, but their form hasn't picked up and there is an unsettled air around the team.

Dublin rode their luck against Tyrone but they did enough to take the victory without any need to feel embarrassed or unworthy. They have a clearly defined system of playing and, in Bernard Brogan, the best forward on display. The likelihood is that Michael Shields will be asked to mark Brogan but he has already beaten the best efforts of incarceration from Tyrone.

John Miskella's recall is welcome but he has had an injury-blighted year and hasn't been able to establish the kind of influence which made him a key part of Cork's attacking sorties last year. Graham Canty's selection may yet be compromised by a hamstring tear that hasn't had much time to heal, and Miskella is an obvious replacement in the centre of defence if he fails to make it.

Dublin did suffer nervous moments in the second quarter against Tyrone when they had the Ulster champions running down the middle with ball in hand. Cork will take encouragement. This phase brought a worrying number of free concessions and given the abrasive nature of the Dublin challenges, they could find themselves penalised more often too; some of their tackling against Tyrone enjoyed the benefit of the doubt. They cannot afford to allow Cork build up an early lead or accelerate forward from the back.

Teams who have studied Cork's system have been able to devise ways of stifling it, Kerry most notably. If Dublin manage to erect similar barriers and force Cork to kick long, the precise merits of the Rebels' All-Ireland claims should become clearer.

Against Tyrone, Dublin's kick-outs yielded a huge dividend and Tyrone went short almost every time. This won't happen today and Cork can expect to do much better. They also have greater options in every line if changes are required. With the weight of pressure on Cork, a good Dublin start could lay the foundations of an upset. But Cork are longer in the making and several careers are on the line if they fail. That should bring the steam from their nostrils and the necessary improvement to see them home.

Betting: Cork 4/6; Dublin 13/8; Draw 15/2.

Verdict: Cork


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