THE message all week was that Cork were going to continue their exciting brand of football and take the game to Dublin.
That was certainly the case as the Rebels raced into a three-point lead. As predicted Cork needed to be strong on their own kick-out and use the ball well, limiting soft turnovers. They did, for the most part.
It was a very positive approach, which was best illustrated by the many times Cork had up to 13 men in the Dublin half. Numbers on the jersey seemed irrelevant as all players looked to get on the ball or make support runs to create space in the opposition half. Risky if you lose possession but Cork were moving the ball well mainly through the hands.
Similar to the Meath game, Dublin were coughing up too much possession early on. The Cork backs were very tight and aggressive in that period led by Kevin Flahive who was very effective on Paul Mannion. There was only one team making contact defensively and Cork certainly would have had the higher tackle count. Dublin turned over possession seven times in the first quarter of which Cork duly punished them on the scoreboard shooting six from six. This was where Meath fell down in the Leinster final.
Going into the game you wouldn’t have expected Cork to score 1-17 considering the top scorers from last week Hurley and Collins were starved of possession and Deane was being well marshaled by John Small in the first half. Hurley still looked very sharp in possession scoring a lovely point after a dummy solo.
Cork kept their play wide with many attacks running through the hands of Sean White who put in a massive shift. There was great link-up play and Paul Kerrigan and Luke Connolly stepped up in attack scoring excellent points from play. Competing at this level you need a variety of scoring options. On most occasions, the better teams will shut you down very easily if you are too reliant on one or two players.
Over the course of the game, Dublin defensively seemed content to cordon off the central channel, limit goal opportunities and leave Cork shoot for points. In addition, Dublin set up with a sweeper where possible, to prevent the long ball option into Hurley and Collins.
Cork moved the ball with pace but the majority of the time were patient also until the opportunities opened up. Dublin’s full-back line was vulnerable when isolated so its no wonder the sweeper is a vital component of their defensive set up.
This involved a rotating sweeper as Dublin looked to press the Cork kick-out. This forced Cian Sullivan to man-mark on occasion where he was not as effective. He could be targeted by other teams.
Cork did get one goal chance in the first half was, in fact, a long kick-pass from Collins to Hurley. It should have been a goal. Dublin will concede some great opportunities but most teams don’t take advantage.
Going in at half time the feeling was Cork were easily able to create plenty of point-scoring opportunities and had left some good chances behind them. Dublin though had a greater goal threat.
That’s how the game turned out in the end with Dublin converting five goals to Cork’s one. Dublin just have the ability to create easier scoring chances overall. Dublin were able to convert 2-9 from 12 shots.
Cork were asking plenty questions of Dublin well into the second half but as champions do they didn’t panic. Cork did well up to the 60th minute but then at that stage they tired.
The more attacking strategy or traditional formation you go with then the better defensively you need to be. Cork can improve here but this will only happen by being exposed to the better teams on a regular basis.
Dublin were able to introduce the experienced Johnny Cooper, Dean Rock, and James McCarthy and Cork couldn’t match this, not many teams could. It must be said Dublin finished the game with a stronger team than what started.
Dean Rock similar to the Leinster final had a major impact off the bench. I was very surprised he was not starting versus Cork. Costello was poor with the free-taking for the second game in a row and it’s a near certainty that Rock will be on the team next week.
In modern-day Gaelic football you need systems and tactics but then you have the individual brilliance of Jack McCaffrey. His pace is just unreal and he did untold damage in the first half.
McCaffrey had a quiet second half when Mattie Taylor went to wing-forward but still, he had big plays in the last quarter. His direct running had a big part in Niall Scully’s goal and with an outrageous diagonal kick pass set up Brian Fenton for Dublin’s fifth goal.
It was a 13-point loss at the end but I don’t envisage any problem for Cork in moving on and re-focusing their energy and preparations on the Tyrone game. Last years qualifier game is still fresh in the memory and next weeks game will be a different challenge as Tyrone will set up defensively with thirteen men inside their own 45.
Cork are still alive and showing plenty of courage and ability. The performance versus Dublin has certainly brought this team on another step. Bring more of the same next week and Tyrone will need to be on top of their game. The additions next week of Sean Powter, Eoghan McSweeney and Killian O’Hanlon are a boost.
Dublin displayed again what makes them so good. Their conditioning overall and composure near goal is excellent. They have their weaknesses though and can concede scores but in a mini-crisis different players just step up making big plays. You can’t buy that experience and mental toughness.