Friday 20 April 2018

Dublin's anxiety a midsummer night's theme

The return of Mark Schutte should boost Dublin’s firepower against Cork tonight. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
The return of Mark Schutte should boost Dublin’s firepower against Cork tonight. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

Confidence, usually such a non-negotiable currency for those who reside upon Leeside, will not be accepted at the Pairc Ui Rinn stiles tonight.

Dublin won't be lugging an excess of the same stuff in their kit bags either. Depending on what clubhouse you sip your lemonade in, metropolitan morale is lower than a snake's belly.

Viewed now as a pair of busted flushes, how easy to forget that these sides caromed off each other in an All-Ireland semi-final just three years back.

Dubs will argue they should have taken the finalists' place were it not for refereeing oath; Cork folk will declare with equal stridency that the Championship should have been theirs in September.

Jimmy Barry-Murphy and his dutiful lieutenants, including one Ger Cunningham, began 2014 with realistic plans to advance their Liam MacCarthy claims anew; within 18 months, the great JBM had been coursed out of town.

Cunningham ended up in Dublin but transition has seen their progress stalled, too. Tonight he returns home.

"He would have always known that some day he have to take on his own, never mind in his own's back garden," muses his former team-mate Tomas Mulcahy.

"Ger's knowledge of Cork will help but the pressure of it all could be a hindrance," warns former Dublin boss Humphrey Kelleher.

Dublin's main stress will be to mind themselves; the home side, too, have enough domestic strife to attend to without being overly fussed about visitors.

Read more: Fear of humiliation will focus Kerry minds

Analysis paralysed both teams the last day and shoe-horned them into tonight's last chance saloon; Cork against Tipp with their sweeper/extra full-back/whatever-you're-having-yourself; then Dublin limply aping September's lame attempt by Galway to rough up the stripy men before forgetting how to hurl.

Dublin, if anything, worked too hard for their own good; Cork didn't work hard enough; the end results were precisely the same.

So the teams assemble tonight with no real estimation of their true worth, while supporters have little confidence in how over-thinking management teams can come up with a practical winning strategy.

"I would be worried our forwards are not physical enough," says Kelleher, one of many still irked at the absences of Danny Sutcliffe and Conal Keaney from the Dubs attack.

"The whole team went out to try to bully Kilkenny but it couldn't and didn't last, especially after Ryan (O'Dwyer) went off. Ultimately it was a waste of energy.

"Ger has done some fine work in defence - Shane Barrett and Eoghan O'Donnell have transitioned - but where will we get the scores from? Mark Schutte's return may help but if the likes of Daire Plunkett and David Treacy have to come back to win puck-outs. . . "

Dublin's puck-out plan served merely to willingly nourish the voracious Cats.

"It's not working," laments Kelleher, a man not alone in that judgement.

The counter would be that it has, at times; Dublin trimmed Cork in Croke Park with pace and strong running from back to front but that soulless chilly cathedral will bear little resemblance to the claustrophobic church this evening.


"It's their version of Parnell Park," adds Kelleher of Pairc Ui Rinn, "and with the Cork crowd expected to come out in droves, that will be a huge factor in their favour."

Then again, the locals will be tentative; they could produce either trumpets or tomatoes for their men.

"The large crowd puts pressure on us," agrees Mulcahy. "They need to just look at the basics, a nod to the League when Kilkenny came here and Cork arguably delivered their best performance in two years.

"It's about winning their own individual battle, look down on your square in the ground and say 'that's my patch'.

"Look, a bit like Ireland in the Euros, they might not be the best players or the best team but the crowd just want to see commitment and a reaction. That's the least they expect."

Read more: Old head Young out to make the most of time with Kingdom

Open, not sagging, shoulders will seize the day but with both sides fumbling for form, even the home side's two-point favouritism with the bookies seems almost apologetic; this has the looks of a match that will be lost, not won.

"Cork will win it," enthuses Mulcahy.

He didn't have to add they must; after their U-21s and minors, barren since '07 and '08 respectively, were wiped this week, for all three hurling sides to be extinguished would be a midsummer 'mare.

Dublin haven't exited this early since 2004 ('01 for Cork). Something has to give. A fair shout it will be nerve.

Irish Independent

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