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Sunday 25 September 2016

Dublin spring tide is set to turn ...

Form has been hit-and-miss, but league history carrot can bring best out of Blues

Jack McCaffery
Jack McCaffery
BRIAN HURLEY

DUBLIN v CORK

(Croke Pk, Tomorrow 4.0, live TG4)

WE'LL start with a potted history of recent April collisions between Sky Blue marauders and runaway Rebels ...

2011 Division 1 final: Diarmuid Connolly points for the Dubs, who have tallied an unanswered 1-6 either side of half-time to stretch eight clear in the 40th minute.

Full-time: Cork have plundered 11 points in the last half-hour to secure an improbable 0-21 to 2-14 victory. Cue lots of soul-searching in the capital and a defiant message from manager Pat Gilroy who, when asked if his team had suffered a mental block, retorted: "If I really believe that, then I should walk out the door here and never be in front of this team again."

He vowed that, some day, when Dublin have the All-Ireland, "we'll stop hearing that". He didn't have long to wait ...

2014 semi-final: With 39 minutes on the clock, this time it's a case of rampant Rebels blitzing a strangely disjointed Dublin by ten points.

Full-time whistle: Did that just happen? The league holders have won the last 30-plus minutes by 2-13 to 0-2, translating into a surreal 2-20 to 2-13 victory. "We can't let what happened in the second half happen again," warned Cork's year-one boss Brian Cuthbert.

SQUEAMISH

A few months later, in a squeamish Munster final farewell to the old Páirc Uí Chaoimh, it happened again ...

That Kerry debacle, coming after their league implosion against Dublin, forced a radical tactical rethink on behalf of Cuthbert.

For what remained of their summer, we saw a reversion to a more pragmatic, defensive sweeper game-plan but also a team learning the new Cork way on the hoof. And, in truth, it didn't actually work against Mayo, when their valiant late charge stemmed from throwing off the shackles.

Since then, Cork have had lots of time to fine-tune and signs are it's working: they topped the Division 1 table and duly disposed of Donegal to reach tomorrow's final.

In the meantime, Dublin have undergone their own Pauline conversion (post-Donegal) on the road to a less gung-ho, more defensively-minded approach.

What does all of the above signify now that Dublin and Cork prepare to renew Croke Park league battle? The initial answer is that we are far less likely to see an oscillating, crazy repeat of 2011 or, indeed, 2014.

Such high-scoring contests - and spectacular collapses - tend to happen when teams go toe-to-toe and then one gets a run on the other. We can't foresee that here.

That said, there is a tendency to overstate the all-enveloping web of blanket defence in today's game. It's true that Tyrone and Derry (especially) literally packed their own half when visiting Croke Park last March, and that Dublin struggled painfully at times to break either down.

But when Cork came to HQ two weeks ago, for all their back-tracking 'forwards', they still leaked 19 points. This was partly attributable to some excellent Donegal shooting; even more due to Cork's lack of intensity in the tackle.

Yet we also had four Cork goals. Hardly what you'd expect from defence-junkies? More what you'd expect from a team carrying gilt-edged finishers like Colm O'Neill and Brian Hurley.

That duo constitute the most obvious threat to Dublin ambitions of emulating the Cork side of 2010-12 by landing an historic league title hat-trick.

The first half of last year's league semi-final was notable for how Hurley went to town on Rory O'Carroll, kicking five points from play. And yet O'Carroll's importance to the Dublin full-back line was underlined in his injury-enforced absence two weeks ago, when Conor McManus was Man of the Match even in narrow defeat, just a week after being blunted by O'Carroll in Clones.

At the other end, there is a pressing requirement for some marquee forwards who failed to fire in their semi-final to step up a gear. Paul Flynn, Diarmuid Connolly and Ciarán Kilkenny were all below the standard we have come to expect, and the team's forward thrust obviously wasn't helped by having to start without Bernard Brogan.

TOPSY-TURVY

That performance was in keeping with a topsy-turvy form graph from the holders. And yet they've won four games on the spin.

With another trophy on offer, and with the need to sign off before summer with a positive statement of intent, we fancy Dublin to do enough here. Maybe this time, though, without any madcap 17-point turnarounds.

ODDS: Dublin 1/2 Draw 8/1 Cork 11/5

VERDICT: Dublin

ALLIANZ DIVISION 1 FINAL

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