Saturday 16 December 2017

Midfield platform should tilt balance for Gilroy's men

Cork have the forwards but Páidí ó Sé reckons Dublin are hitting form at just the right time

NEVER in the course of my current career as a (sometimes fallible) forecaster have I found the outcome of a game more difficult to predict with confidence than this titanic clash at Croke Park today.

Earlier last week, I reckoned that Dublin were gathering momentum with each match and that the roll of success would continue today. But on Friday, when I scrutinised the teams closely, I began to have my doubts and, to tell you the truth, at that stage I would have opted for Cork.

These are, probably, the two biggest teams -- physically -- in the country so I expect some epic duels on the field today, such as the contest between Ciarán Sheehan and Rory O'Carroll.

The Dublin full-backs are big and strong, and good fielders, and they remind me a lot of the Dublin team of 1974. But I have worries, too, about Dublin, particularly their over-reliance for scores on the Brogan brothers, Bernard and Alan.

I believe that Cork's backs will concentrate tactically and physically on snuffing out that threat, rather like Tom O'Sullivan did last year for Kerry when he was marking Bernard and eventually he was dominant enough to be able to tear up the field and get a fine point himself. I'd certainly be very fearful, if I were Pat Gilroy, that if the twin threat of the Brogans were to be nullified, Dublin wouldn't have much firepower left in their locker from Eoghan O'Gara, Bryan Cullen, David Henry and Niall Corkery.

At the other end of the field, the Cork forward sextet seem to me to be the more natural footballers and scorers. The big question mark here, though, is do they really have the heartbeat, or in other words, the bottle?

I worry, too, about the Cork tactics of passing the ball out of defence. I think their forwards are good enough for the Cork backs to indulge in a lot more speculative kicking up the field, allowing their men to win their own ball. This tactical die is now cast, and Conor Counihan's side won't be changing their style today.

Against Tyrone, I noticed that Dublin conceded possession, particularly in the second half, but drew an iron curtain across the field from about 45 yards out. Beyond which the Tyrone forwards found it difficult to penetrate. Dublin held that line. Even at the price of an occasional foul.

I'm not all that confident though that the Dublin defensive shield will work as well this time as it did that day. What I am sure of is that if Cork forsake the slow build-up and go for the long ball, they'll get behind the Dublin defence and their natural footballing forwards will play havoc.

Cork in this championship season have been a stop-start side, rather like a car with dirty petrol. They have, for long periods, been unable to build up a smooth rhythm. There has been too much chopping and changing in the second half of matches and too many substitutes have been brought on.

Is it that some of the Cork players are not fresh enough to stay the pace for the full 70 minutes, with the result that these tactics, which in my view disrupt the team, are brought into play?

I'll be surprised if Cork change their style today. But, for their sake, I hope they do because players as accomplished as Pearse O'Neill, Daniel Goulding and Ciarán Sheehan will have a field day. Players like Ray Carey, Paudie Kissane, Noel O'Leary and John Miskella are well able to deliver the long balls that could be vital on the day if they are allowed to free up their thinking.

I expect a couple of the, so far at least, less noticed Cork attackers such as Patrick Kelly and Donnacha O'Connor to cause worry to the Dublin backs, who will be facing six good forwards, a situation that is a considerable luxury for Cork in that it won't be the end of the world if one or two of the forwards have an off day with their scoring boots.

Colm O'Rourke said that Cork were pound for pound the best team in the country. He may well be right but so far this very talented squad have not given the best return in terms of their potential to their supporters. I think Gilroy has done a masterful job in bringing Dublin to a peak bit by bit. In fact, looking back it would seem that the hammering they got at the hands of Meath was one of the best things that could have happened to them.

It is tempting to hedge my bets, but I feel obliged to come down one way or the other. If they get dominance at the centre of the field -- and I am tipping them to get the edge here -- and one or two of their forwards other than the Brogan brothers are in scoring form, I am tipping Dublin to get there narrowly, possibly against my better judgment.

One way or another, I'm looking forward to a great day, to an epic match, and to a sense of sporting occasion that only a confrontation of this scale can deliver.

PS: It was the most heart-warming occasion in the Skellig Hotel in Dingle last Friday night when we had a surprise party to celebrate Micheál ó Muircheartaigh's 80th birthday. Micheál is one of the tiny group of people who can truly be described as a living legend.

His commentaries on Gaelic games have become a byword for brilliance, wit, and a type of deliberate eccentricity at which Micheál excels and which delights his legion of fans. We all know that he has a passion for greyhound racing that is only equalled by his love of football and hurling.

Thanks for all the pleasure you have given us Micheál and we look forward to many more years of your marvellous personality and your genius as a broadcaster.

Sunday Independent

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