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Monday 5 December 2016

Rebel influence starting to show

Cunningham putting his own stamp on the Dubs

Dublin manager Ger Cunningham talks with Oisín Gough before the Bord na Mona Walsh Cup game against Antrim. Pic: Sportsfile
Dublin manager Ger Cunningham talks with Oisín Gough before the Bord na Mona Walsh Cup game against Antrim. Pic: Sportsfile

It's not a particularly large leap to draw comparisons between some of style traits Dublin have begun to exhibit, even at this embryonic stage of the year, to those of Cork in that middle part of the last decade when they were hurling's pre-eminent force.

The method of hurling that has its roots in Newtownshandrum who, as it happens, were managed by Patsy Morrissey - the new Dublin hurling selector - when they won their All-Ireland club title in 2004.

Off the shoulder

"If they're playing through the lines and they're doing an awful lot of running off the shoulder, holding onto the ball no matter what - yeah, that's a lot of the stuff that we used to do," says Pat Mulcahy, the 2005 All-Ireland medalist with Cork and one of Newtownshandrum's driving forces in that golden period in the last decade when they won four county titles, an All-Ireland and changed the way many thought was the most effective method of hurling.

The back story goes that in the mid-1990s, Bernie O'Connor - father to future Cork stars Ben and Jerry - saw the lack of numbers and size in his Newtownshandrum panel and decided to come up with hurling's version of the Fosbury flop at a time when long distance delivery and holding positions weren't so much the done thing, as the only thing.

"The obvious thing to do was pass the ball over and back and keep it," Mulcahy explains.

"It was hard working, hard running. We won three under-21 county titles doing that. That carried through to senior.

"Every time we went up a grade, it was harder to do," he recalls.

"But we were very different to everyone else when we won our first county (title) in 2000 and there was a distinctiveness about Newtown'."

Donal O'Grady embraced it and tweaked it with Cork and later, John Allen continued the evolution.

Two of his selectors were Ger Cunningham and Patsy Morrissey.

Already, Cunningham's preference for pace around the middle in the form of the likes of Daire Plunkett, Cian Boland and Niall McMorrow is self evident.

This, according to Mulcahy, may be a variation on the theme.

"To play that game, you need players with great spatial awareness," he explains.

"When you hold on to the ball, it's about just having the ability to go with it, because it's easier to run with the ball than without it.

"So it's not so much about having the pace as having an understanding of where your other players are and being comfortable on the ball.

"If route one isn't on, you have to be able to double-back and go a second route.

"Whereas some players can panic a little bit and wouldn't be comfortable on the ball.

"If Ger is bringing players out around the middle of the pitch who are very comfortable on the ball, very willing to make runs from deep, then he's got the right fellas.

"But I think that's the most important component, as opposed to pace."

It wouldn't surprise Mulcahy then if Cunningham was following an old route but neither would he expect him to be myopic in his view of how to build a game-plan.

Ideas

"Ger is very open-minded," he insists. "I had him when he was a backs' coach under John Allen. He's very open to ideas.

"Patsy is with him and that must be an influence. They've definitely sat down and discussed it and will try and deliver a plan around it.

"But Ger is very open to ideas," Mulcahy adds. "And he's doing this based on what he's already seen."

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