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Saturday 23 September 2017

Rebel hell or a Sky Blue backlash?

Cunningham's youth policy in the spotlight after a crushing start

Rival managers, Dublin’s Ger Cunnnigham and Cork’s Kieran Kingston. Pics: Sportsfile
Rival managers, Dublin’s Ger Cunnnigham and Cork’s Kieran Kingston. Pics: Sportsfile

Never have spin doctors been more in demand as political chaos unfolds on both sides of the Atlantic.

Whether you're an increasingly lame duck Enda Kenny or an incorrigibly demented Donald Trump, it's obvious you need PR help to save yourself - from yourself or others.

But what if you're the Dublin hurling manager who has just embarked on the latest phase of a radical upheaval?

You are Ger Cunningham and have inherited the most successful crew of Sky Blue stickmen in half-a-century.

But the team is ageing in places, and probably past its prime.

Cork’s Alan Cadogan and Dublin’s Eoghan O’Donnell will both have vital roles to play for their counties this evening. Pic: Sportsfile
Cork’s Alan Cadogan and Dublin’s Eoghan O’Donnell will both have vital roles to play for their counties this evening. Pic: Sportsfile

Change is inevitable. So you set about putting your own stamp on things.

Crossroads

Yet, after two years of relative league progress but negligible championship impact, you are at a crossroads. And you go for broke, introducing another raft of wannabes, three of then just out of minor. Then you throw them in at the deep end against Tipperary.

The outcome - once the promising portents of the first 15 minutes had receded - was definitive and demoralising.

Enter your spin doctor, who will launch a variety of plausible counter-arguments along the lines of: "Throw in half-a-dozen Cuala players into that starting team and it would be a different story ... you've got to consider that Tipp are the best team in the land, just remember what they inflicted upon Waterford and Kilkenny last summer ... and don't forget how Tipp also hammered Dublin at the start of last year's league, but who recovered to win their next three games?"

As we say, all very plausible.

But you couldn't disguise the chasm in class, physicality and intensity once Pádraic Maher & Co got into their stride.

And Cunningham, judging from some of his post-match comments, didn't try to sugar-coat that undeniable truth.

Praising the defiance of full-back Eoghan O'Donnell as he put his hand and hurl in so many dykes, the manager added: "What we need to find is that level of performance in the forward-line. Tipperary are a well developed side, we're at the other end of that spectrum.

"But the time has passed when they were underage players. They're now senior players and they've got to learn quickly."

Starting in Páirc Uí Rinn tonight.

That brings us to Cunningham's native Cork, and another manager (Kieran Kingston) immersed in a major rebuild.

The difference is that this new-look Cork have hit the

 ground running in 2017. If you include their successful Munster Senior League pre-season campaign, they have already recorded six wins on the spin.

Flirted

Their Division 1A opener at home to Clare qualifies as the most significant. They may have flirted with danger either side of half-time, conceding an injury-time goal and then a penalty on the restart ... but once Anthony Nash had denied Tony Kelly in that pivotal one-on-one, Cork grew in confidence and so did their lead.

A seven-point victory over opponents accustomed to All-Ireland success (at senior or U21 level) augurs well. All five newcomers made a positive impact, none more so than Shane Kingston, the manager's son, with 0-4 from play.

Meanwhile, Alan Cadogan hit the same tally and looked unplayable in the first half. All of this explains why Dublin are 5/1 outsiders here.

The irony of their 16-point trimming by Tipp, and the concession of 1-24, is that their best performers were backs.

O'Donnell was the standout example - albeit his mistake led to Jason Forde's goal. Chris Crummey was likewise a tower of stoic resistance on the wing.

Dublin's problems stemmed from elsewhere - primarily their struggle to win or retain possession around the middle-third, and the near-obliteration of their callow attack.

Once their bright start (delivering a 0-4 to 0-1 lead and a fluffed goal chance) had faded, Tipp upped the ante and Dublin did little to stop them. During one first half phase, Tipp won seven out of nine Dublin puckouts. Then, in the second period, they won five on the trot in the midst of a 20-minute barrage of Tipperary scores, 1-10 unanswered.

Only with the arrival of Eamonn Dillon did Dublin offer any counter-threat: he batted a poacher's goal and turned his man sharply to win a pointed free. They need Dillon's incisive presence; collectively, they need a whole lot more.

ODDS: Cork 1/6 Draw 14/1 Dublin 5/1

VERDICT: Cork

allianz hL div 1a: cork v dublin (páirc Uí rinn, tonight 7.0, live eir sport 2)

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