Monday 19 August 2019

Conor McKeon: Rejuvenated Rebels can give Dublin the challenge we've all been wanting to see

Brian Hurley of Cork scores his second goal past Laois goalkeeper Graham Brody during their qualifier clash at Semple Stadium; the forward says Cork will be ‘going for’ Dublin. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Brian Hurley of Cork scores his second goal past Laois goalkeeper Graham Brody during their qualifier clash at Semple Stadium; the forward says Cork will be ‘going for’ Dublin. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile

Conor McKeon

Not that we'd expected Dublin to be discommoded in any way during the Leinster Championship just passed, but the whole thing passed with so little incident that it feels as though we have seen less of their true self than at this point in previous seasons.

Such was their superiority in three Leinster SFC games, the competition was effectively Dublin's pre-season.

That fact was reflected in the levels of anticipation and excitement their ninth Delaney Cup title in a row generated.

With their first two games in the Super 8s in Croke Park against Cork and Roscommon, two teams that will begin 2020 in Division 3 and 2 of the league respectively, it would appear as though the rise in difficulty level is only marginal now.

This is probably good for Jim Gavin but not those who enjoy seeing Dublin coming under pressure to see how they react.

If there is a defining characteristic of this Dublin team through their decade of success, it has been its innate ability to pull off the big plays at the vital moments in the biggest games.

However, they haven't really had to do that since the 2017 All-Ireland final.

The good news is that Cork are making all the right noises this week.

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Defensive

"If you don't take them on, that is only keeping the scoreboard down. If you go defensive against Dublin, it is only a matter of time (before they wear you down) because of the forwards they have," said Tomás Clancy, drafted into defence ahead of the Super8s clash.

"You have to play to your own strengths and believe in those strengths. You have to be true to yourself.

"The way we set up, we just go at teams. We're way better playing on the front foot."

Forward Brian Hurley added: "We'll be going for them, of course you will. They're a great team, great players, but at this time of the year, you have to go for them."

And in a slightly less bullish manager-speak take on Cork's task, boss Ronan McCarthy insisted: "We focus on ourselves and make sure that we continue to build on what we have done well.

"Yes, we will try and recognise elements of the opposition where we feel we might make gains, and they are going to be hard, hard-earned because Dublin are a very consistent team all over the pitch, but let's mainly focus on ourselves."

Cork's identity as a free-wheeling, attacking-minded team is a new one.

Their tally of 8-67 this spring made them the lowest-scoring team in the top two divisions of the league en route to relegation to Division 3.

Yet in marked contrast, they've scored 10 goals in three championship matches so far, averaging 26 points per game.

So the idea that McCarthy might completely abandon that method of play and impress upon his players a game plan they're not used to against Dublin is a silly one.

Effect

What effect that has on Dublin's game plan will be interesting to note.

Against Meath in the Leinster final, they ran the ball from all over the pitch.

At one stage, Philly McMahon kicked a ball 60 yards into Paul Mannion and the reason it stood out was its rarity in Dublin's game plan.

Not only are they brilliantly orchestrated in their movement in an effort to open up a high-percentage scoring opportunity, they are largely risk adverse, only taking a long-kick option when the chance of turnover is minimal.

Yet if Cork's determination to be true to their attacking beliefs forces them to leave gaps at the back and Dublin's most profitable means of moving the ball is early and direct, we may see a different dimension to their game.

The old clichéd joke about the Cork fella with the inferiority complex who thought he was just as good as everyone else might be relevant here.

Few enough of this Cork team have any recent experience against Dublin, which given the type of hidings Gavin's team have habitually handed out to lower-ranking opposition, is just as well in the context of this evening's game.

"Sometimes, young players don't have any kind of baggage or hang-ups," as McCarthy put it. "To them, it is just another game."

Dublin will win here. Not because of Cork's attitude, but simply because Dublin are too good and too experienced not to win.

The hope is, however, we'll see something of them nobody in Leinster was able to reveal.

Irish Independent

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