Leesiders in league of their own, says Jim Gavin
JIM GAVIN has never been shy about talking up the opposition, no matter how humble, but statistically he has a point when declaring: "Cork are in a league of their own this year".
Brian Cuthbert's men have already beaten Dublin - on day one in Páirc Uí Rinn. And they finished top of the table with ten points, despite losing on the last day to an already demoted Derry. But even that comes with a caveat: Cork were in the play-offs and fielded far from full strength.
The Rebels also won their semi-final against Donegal by four points whereas Dublin squeezed past Monaghan by just one. And yet, for all that, the men in blue will start as 1/2 favourites.
"They've been very, very impressive," says Gavin of their rivals in the red corner. "Certainly they've worked on their defensive structure. They're very solid at the back, getting a lot of players back.
"Mark Collins would be an obvious player, having watched them - he gets back and does an awful lot of work, (John) O'Rourke as well. Defensively they're very solid.
"They play a hand-passing game out of defence, a lot more than I've probably seen in the past. But they still keep to their traditional Cork kick-passing game and they find their inside man.
"They've got quality forwards," he adds. "Colm O'Neill (pictured, left) has been outstanding - his goal tally, points tally, game sense. He's got balance. He's a fantastic finisher: I don't think I've seen him miss a one-on-one. That's how good he is. I know Brian Hurley well from the '21s' - he gave us a lot of trouble then and has grown as a player."
As for his own charges, Gavin qualifies Dublin's advance to a third consecutive league final as a "great achievement" at a time when they are "trying to develop new players, and that can be a rough sea. But it's something that we just need to stick at and get through.
"To win four games on the bounce, at the important part of the league, when it was required, is a great testament to them," he declares, before concluding: "Coming out of the game next Sunday, we'll know exactly where we are."