Wednesday 23 May 2018

Rebel hell or glee by the Lee awaits

Last chance for two sides under the cosh, but ex-Dublin boss O'Grady remains 'optimistic'

Dubnlin manager Ger Cunningham. Picture credit: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE
Dubnlin manager Ger Cunningham. Picture credit: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE

Back in 2013, the hurlers of Cork and Dublin served up an engrossing All-Ireland semi-final, whose outcome was in the balance until a 66th minute goal from Patrick Horgan killed off the brave resistance of 14 men in blue.

Tomorrow night in Páirc Uí Rinn, a venue and occasion far removed from the pomp and ceremony of Croke Park in August, the same counties will be fighting for survival.

All gone horribly wrong in three years?

Three weeks ago, Dublin were overwhelmed in the third quarter of their Leinster semi-final against Kilkenny who coasted home by 12 points. The 'reward' for Ger Cunningham is a high-stakes, win-or-bust qualifier in the back yard of his native Cork.

The Rebels have had longer to digest their meek surrender to Tipperary; the nine-point margin may have been less than Dublin's but the performance was actually worse.

Leesiders are clinging to the belief that a forward line bursting with talent that never surfaced in Thurles (bar the sole beacon that was Alan Cadogan) can reignite their moribund season.


And yet former Dublin manager Michael O'Grady believes the 'advantage' of playing in front of a partisan Páirc Uí Rinn could prove a double-edged sword.

"There's probably more pressure on Cork," O'Grady reasons. "If Cork lose at home, that will be serious pressure, I believe … not unlike the English soccer team, a new management maybe! Which isn't what Cork want because, let's be honest, it's the guys on the field operate the tactics."

Seánie McGrath was an All-Ireland winning All Star forward in 1999 and a Cork selector under Jimmy Barry Murphy in 2013.

"Are Cork gone back?" he muses. "Like, there's no doubt, in 2013 Cork got to an All-Ireland final and were desperately unlucky not to win it. What you're hoping is that the next year and the year after, you'll have an injection of new talent, to put guys under pressure ... that hasn't happened to a huge degree. And number two, the form of some of the key players just doesn't seem to be measuring up.

"But having said that, I think Cork have a chance to get themselves back on track on Saturday night. I've heard that they've trained well; that they've done a bit of soul-searching.

"So I think they have a chance to get themselves back on track - if the likes of Patrick Horgan, Conor Lehane, Luke O'Farrell and these guys can get their scoring radar in.

"I'm convinced of this: (Séamus) Harnedy, Cadogan, Lehane, Horgan … these guys are as good as what's out there. What they need to do is get consistency into their game."

The problem arises when that doesn't happen. "I'd say Cork's bench is a little bit skinny at the moment, and they need everyone going at 100pc, high octane, and delivering," McGrath concludes.

Dublin have their own issues in attack. Three years ago, Anthony Daly possessed a half-forward line well able to win its own ball. Now Conal Keaney is retired and Danny Sutcliffe on sabbatical. In their place, Niall McMorrow and Daire Plunkett offer a mobility that can flourish when Dublin's possession game is working, but what when that strategy short-circuits as it did against Kilkenny?

Michael O'Grady's left-field solution would be to relocate Chris Crummy from the half-backs to centre-forward, because of his height and strength - even though "he doesn't like it, I know that."


"Danny and Keaney would be big losses because of the way that they could catch a high ball. But that's all Ger can work on, the players that he has. I believe that he will have something up his sleeve, because it's in his own county and he has an extra reason to try and win," says O'Grady.

But will they? "I would be optimistic. I really believe this Dublin team have a lot of hurling in them, and this is a massive game for both sides.

"Psychologically I just feel Dublin probably will feel better how they lost to Kilkenny than Cork will feel how they lost to Tipp. Cork do not want a repeat of that ... it's up to Dublin to make sure it does."

All-Ireland SHC qualifier: CORK v DUBLIN

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