THERE have been conflicting views on how well Dublin are operating at present.
Performances have been mixed in the championship so far and Dublin also lost three games in the league this season.
Some goal chances were coughed up versus Kildare while Meath missed some good point opportunities. Never the less Dublin won both games convincingly, while still leaving many chances behind themselves.
There will be no panic from this Dublin side. It’s only from now from the quarter-final stage where levels may need to crank up a gear. That only will happen though if other teams ask the right questions.
It’s the Dublin players' reaction to adversity that stands out. In recent seasons Mayo, Kerry, and Tyrone last year early in the All-Ireland final showed things can be made very difficult for Dublin.
This requires ferocious effort and excellent planning from the opposition. Dublin though while making more mistakes than usual, they will not take a backward step.
Recently in the Leinster final for example, on a damp day Dublin’s use of the ball in the first half was poor in the opposition half. This led to numerous turnovers. Some errors were due to good aggressive Meath defending while other turnovers were just down to poor execution.
Other components of Dublin’s game were strong so once the attacking play in the final third improved in the second half, there was going to be only one winner.
Cork's confidence will be on an upward curve again after the big defeat of Laois. This confidence will need to be displayed from the throw in versus Dublin, as they are the type of team who don’t need much time to create a big lead.
This is a factor this weekend, as Cork have not started their last two games well enough.
One of the challenges facing Cork this weekend is the flexibility of the Dublin forwards. Match-ups are important in the modern game and with most teams, it can be easier to do this as you can predict the opposition to set up a certain way.
The forwards Jim Gavin has at his disposal though, means players can easily inter change positions. A half-back can end up being exposed in the full-back line or else opposition defenders stay in their positions and the team are unable to go with certain match ups. This can hurt the team either way.
John Small did an effective man-marking job on Peter Harte in the All-Ireland last year while in the recent Leinster final Jack McCaffrey picked up Meath speedster Cian O’Sullivan. Considering the form Ruairí Deane is in, you can be sure Deane will get extra attention this weekend.
Deane showed a variety in his play in Thurles which can make him harder to mark and just a better player overall. Mixing the direct running with some simple but crucial kick-passing. His battle alone will be exciting to see.
Experienced Dublin defenders Johnny Copper and James McCarthy are expected to miss the game through injury. Cooper’s loss is not felt as much due to the return this year of Davy Byrne. I was very impressed with Byrne in 2018 but he missed out last year due to injury.
McCarthy’s absence is a loss. It’s easy to play well when everything is going your way but McCarthy is the type who makes the big plays when the need is greatest. Dublin may have quality on the bench but it’s hard to replace that experience.
Cork did well last week dominating the Laois kick-out in the first half but i don’t expect the same targets to be reached this week. Cork will still need to put Stephen Cluxton’s kick-outs under pressure as its unlikely that Dublin will have as many turnovers as the Leinster final. This is where Jason Ryan’s analysis will have a crucial role I am sure.
Teams can force Cluxton into the odd error but it is rare that Dublin lose numerous kick outs in succession. Mayo achieved this feat in first half of the 2017 final, winning six Dublin kick-outs in the first half. Dublin survived once again though, changing strategy at half time and going onto to win the game.
One of Dublin’s strengths has been the players' ability to commit and then execute the game plan. The game plan is so important but it is also the individual skill-sets and ability, which are still allowed to flourish within that plan is what makes them such a difficult team to beat. This is evidence of the quality coaching within the set-up.
Cork are capable of taking their performance up another level this weekend and will need to. Going forward Cork will require relentless pace but also composure as players will have less time on the ball.
Tyrone got on top early last year in the All Ireland final but composure was absent and therefore shooting was rash. In contrast, Dublin have that ability to create easier scoring opportunities.
There will be times when Cork will get through the center of the Dublin defense no doubt, but it is how many high percentage scoring chances they create and convert which will be key. This is easier said than done, as Dublin are very organized on the scramble defence.
The way Cork are expected to set up, then the attack must function really well. This starts with gaining possession of the ball. Other tactical components are important too and work-rate should be a given. The scoreboard though must be kept ticking over.
Cork are back exactly where they want in the Super 8s. This game will highlight how much more progress is needed.