IT remains to be seen this year whether the Dublin footballers are the best equipped to dethrone our neighbours in Kerry.
Seánie O’Shea’s famous long-range free to get Kerry over the line in last year’s All-Ireland SFC semi-final will have hurt the Dubs and will surely serve as the motivation needed to have another serious tilt at Sam later on this year. Relegated from Division 1 and not bringing home ultimate honours in 2022 will have been seen as slippage by Dessie Farrell, his players and the Dublin supporters.
The Cork footballers welcome the Dubs to Páirc Uí Chaoimh for a 3.45pm throw-in this Sunday. An unusual time, to say the least – I was thinking first was it the latter part of a double-header of some sort, be it with the hurlers or maybe part of the pre-season John Kerins U20 tournament but it’s not. My only conclusion is that television coverage must be dictating.
Traditionally, the Dubs are great supporters to travel. I remember back to a national league final we played them in in the Páirc in 1999 and they travelled in their thousands to help create a great atmosphere around the city the night before, prior to and during the game.
Granted, some will still travel the night before but the late throw-in will surely put some off as it would mean a later return to the capital on a Sunday night. A Saturday night fixture for this one, similar to what the hurlers had when they played Limerick, would have been far more attractive to both home and away support.
Anyway, that’s beside the point. It’s a great opportunity and test for this developing Cork team to lock horns with one of the top teams in the land so early in the season. The Dubs, boosted by the return to training of Jack McCaffrey and Paul Mannion this season – neither of which have featured so far – would be expected to win all their games in Division 2 this year and make an instant return to the top division.
Dessie Farrell will be hoping to use the league to re-integrate the likes of the two already mentioned and get a host of others yet-to-feature stars up to speed in the hope of a serious assault on Kerry and Sam Maguire come July.
Kildare ran them close in the opening round and probably got caught up in the hype that they had closed the gap. Cork in turn took full advantage of that to give them a drubbing (2-14 to 0-7) the last day out in Newbridge. An extremely important result for the Rebels who had lost their opener to Meath, as getting nothing from the first three league games against top Leinster opposition would have done a lot of damage to confidence and belief within the camp and the talk would quickly have switched to relegation rather than the possibility of promotion. If Cork can get something from this match, it would put them in a great position heading into games against Limerick, Clare and Louth. None of them would be easy of course, but more winnable, maybe.
It would be very easy to get caught up in the statistics following this Dublin group of footballers. They have won eight All-Irelands since 2011. They completed the six in a row in 2020 and possess some of the greatest players that have ever played the game in the form of the likes of James McCarthy, Brian Fenton and Ciarán Kilkenny. But admiring their successes will do this Cork group no good. Respect must be shown to this Dublin team but if Cork stand back and admire them for any period of time, the punishment can be severe as Kildare found out in this year’s Leinster final with the concession of five first-half goals.
They most certainly are a team of quality but Cork cannot be frightened by Dublin’s last decade. Take them on the here and now. Fear breeds anxiety and anxiety leads to the rabbits-in-headlights scenario.
Cork will have to relentlessly chase Dublin for 80 minutes. Taking Dublin on in increments won’t be enough. Optimise periods of dominance and minimise the damage when Dublin are in the ascendancy. All individual performances will have to be eight or nine out of ten.
In last year’s quarter-final in Croke Park, Cork stuck with the Dubs for 50 minutes before going down by about ten points. Cork now carry more physicality in their team and levels of fitness have definitely improved. Another question is what will John Cleary and his selectors decide to do with the UCC contingent who will have played the Sigerson Cup final this week also. Two key members of the last line of defence in Maurice Shanley and Daniel O’Mahony will be involved, as are the likes of Cathail O’Mahony and Fionn Herlihy, who is in great form at the moment.
O’Mahony and Shanley will most likely be handed the job of tying up Dublin’s marquee inside two of Costello and O’Callaghan if they come through unscathed. A fitter and leaner looking Colm O’Callaghan would, I expect, again to be given the Fenton job. But who marks Ciarán Kilkenny? Matty Taylor was given the job last time out, but he struggled with his physicality.
Kickout strategies will be key to Cork's competitiveness in this one on both their own and Dublins. It’s an intriguing early-season fixture and we will be hoping for a huge performance from a team that needs a win of this calibre to set their season alight.