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Friday 15 December 2017

blues to relish underdog role

Dublin long shots to defeat Cork -- a position that suits them best

ALLIANZ NHL DIVISION 1

DUBLIN v CORK

(Parnell Pk, Tomorrow 2.30)

AS a long-suffering Tottenham fan, Anthony Daly knows all about the swings and arrows of outrageous form and fortune. But even while Spurs go marching on this week, Daly's very own Dubs have been left to reflect on their own topsy-turvy performances.

They currently lie sixth in the Division One table, hovering worryingly close to the drop zone and privately thankful (one suspects) that crisis-torn Limerick are no closer to locating a full-strength team willing to play for the county.

When you couple Dublin's humble return of two points from eight with the contrasting position of Cork (leading the way with seven) then it will hardly surprise Daly if most neutrals are leaning heavily in favour of the Leesiders.

Yet a closer inspection of the respective formguides suggests that this isn't remotely such a black-and-white prediction. Dublin have reserved their two best displays of 2010 for Parnell Park -- and they're at home again tomorrow.

Fresh from being humbled by Waterford, they were expected to struggle against Tipperary -- and yet blitzed them by nine points. Some Dublin diehards were also fearing the worst after their team crashed to earth in Offaly; the response against Kilkenny last Sunday was hugely encouraging, even if the All-Ireland kingpins weren't at full strength and even if it all ended in another defeat.

So, on that basis, we can surmise that the Blues have played much better this season in the familiar role of underdogs as opposed to when lumbered with favouritism -- and they're a 13/5 long shot to claim the points tomorrow.

On a more practical level, though, Dublin will have to correct one glaring problem if they're to ease away from relegation. In four league games to date they have shipped an alarming 10 goals -- more than any of their top-flight rivals, Limerick wannabes included.

This contrasts with a far more watertight campaign in 2009, when they conceded just six goals in seven games. The personnel hasn't changed to any major degree; it's more to do with wavering form. Tomás Brady, one of their standout '09 performers, had a tough time of it in Tullamore and this may well explain why he was shifted to centre-back against Kilkenny.

This proved a short-lived experiment. Ronan Fallon struggled in his new full-back role -- thanks largely to the predatory instincts of Richie Power -- and this prompted Brady's return to the edge of the square inside half an hour. Murphy's Law decreed that, within a minute, Power should pounce for his second goal. When your luck's not in ...

"We're leaking a bit," Daly conceded this week. "The two days we played Kilkenny last year, we played Johnny McCaffrey behind the half-back line and we were there or thereabouts.

"Some people think that we're still playing a third midfielder, but we're not. (Alan) McCrabbe won't stay in the corner and I like that -- it gives the opposition something to think about and that's his game, he needs a bit of space. We play six backs against six forwards, but Kilkenny have great players and they can create space when you least expect it and open you up."

Ultimately, that Power-inspired scoring burst before half-time proved the difference between morale-boosting victory and the moral victory (aka four-point defeat) that transpired.

Overall, there were far more positives than negatives (attitude was spot-on; midfield was superb; they scored 0-23) and Daly has kept personnel changes to the minimum. Liam Rushe returns from injury and should boost their ball-winning prowess.

The resultant reshuffle sees Shane Durkin revert to midfield, Maurice O'Brien to wing-back (despite his midfield heroics), Joey Boland to centre-back (where he started motoring in the last quarter against Kilkenny), while Brady now starts at full-back, with Fallon the ultimate fall guy.

Daly must hope that his remodelled defence tightens up: Cork are not renowned goal-getters but they have managed six in the current campaign and Michael Cussen has shown himself to be more than just a towering target man. Suffice to say, if Dublin can stop leaking goals and match the intensity of last Sunday, they have a chance -- but they remain underdogs, the role they love best.

ODDS: Dublin 13/5, Draw 10/1, Cork 1/3

VERDICT: Cork

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