OpinionPat Spillane

Cork's plan just won't float in fight for Sam

Daniel Goulding is tackled by Jonny Cooper
Daniel Goulding is tackled by Jonny Cooper

A mediocre football league ended on a suitably underwhelming note last weekend.

Having said that Offaly and Longford served up a really enjoyable game of what could be described as innocent attacking football. 

I can’t imagine it will be quite as open when they meet again in the Leinster championship on Saturday week.  The bogey prize for the winners is a quarter final clash against the mighty Dubs in Croke Park at the end of May.

I shudder to think that the final margin will be May 31st. This is an inarguable case: the game should have been played outside Croke Park. 

The Division 3 final between Armagh and Fermanagh brought us back to reality. Even the most passionate Gaelic football fan would have struggled to stay interested until the end.

Suffice to say that despite been reduced to 14 men before half time Armagh never looked like losing.

The first half 30 minutes of the Division 2 final between Roscommon and Down was turgid as we witnessed the worst excesses of modern day Gaelic football.

Down built their reputation as a football powerhouse on flair.  Former star players must be aghast at what they witnessed last Sunday. 

Dublin couldn’t be faulted for the fact that the Division 1 final was a non-event. In fact, at times they were outstanding.

It was the first time since last year’s All-Ireland quarter final that they brought their A game to Croke Park.  As a contest the game was as early as the 12th minute.  Even then it was self-evident that the contest was already beyond Cork’s reach.

So, how good are the Dubs? As I suggested in my preview any time they bring their A game to the table they are virtually unstoppable. 

Dublin’s A game incorporates high tempo play, huge work rate, great movement on and off the ball and fantastic support play. And unlike most other teams they can vary their game plan.

On the basis of what we witnessed last Sunday Dublin has a slightly different modus operandi in 2015. Their heretofore romantic approach to football is now tinged with a steely realism.

They’re a more pragmatic outfit and are far more confident when confronted with the blanket defence.

It is not by accident that they had the best defensive record in Division 1. 

Not alone did Cian O’Sullivan anchor the defence against Cork  he stayed behind to ‘mind the house’ at all times while the midfielders and wing forward tracked back when needed.

There is nothing spectacularly innovative about the way they defend. The importance of winning back possession and ‘marking your man’ in drummed into every footballer from an early age.

Dublin paralysed Cork by putting their ball carriers under intense pressure high up the field much like Barcelona’s high press game which revolves around winning back possession within six seconds of losing it.

There are numerous advantages to pressing high up the field as we saw last weekend. Dublin repeatedly forced Cork to turn over possession in their own scoring zone and nullified the two central flanks of the Rebel’s game plan – the short kick out and their counter-attacking hand passing game.

The Dublin forwards exerted so much pressure on the Cork kick out and on their ball carriers that on numerous occasions they surrendered possession or spilled the ball over the sideline. They were put under such pressure that they were rarely able to link up with their two key forwards  Colm O’Neill and Brian Hurley.

Every team ought to take a leaf out of Dublin’s game book. Forget the blanket defence – pressing teams far up the field is the way forward.

The Dubs didn’t neglect basic defensive duties such as the importance of man to mark marking. Jonny Cooper’s policing of Brian Hurley was a master class – he either got to the ball first or managed to break it away from the Cork man.

Elsewhere Dean Rock is a big addition given that he can be relied upon to score eight to ten points per game from placed balls. 

The accuracy of Stephen Cluxton’s restarts has been well documented but the unselfish off the ball running of the outfield players to make themselves available for those kick outs often so unnoticed.

So is Dublin the real deal and can we expect another summer of loose talk about the five in a row!

There is a sense of déjà vu about them. They have been here before and haven’t delivered in September. They’re not the finished article by any means.

Firstly I will be amazed if Dublin won the All-Ireland title with a first choice midfield of Denis Bastick and Brian Fenton. Apart from being a rookie the latter is inexperienced and is a natural wing forward while Bastick’s best days are behind him.

Cork were woeful but still they scored two goals and should have scored two more.  In the absence of Rory O’Carroll the Dubs full-line creaks. Bernard Brogan and Diarmuid Connolly were well below their best as they have been all season. 

Dublin started and finished the first half well but were average in between. They kicked eight wides, went 12 minutes without a score, took numerous wrong options and the final ball into their full forward line was very poor.

Having said all that Dublin – and Kerry –is in pole position to win the 2015 All-Ireland. 

But Dublin has what I would describe as a ‘streaky’ side. Once the get a start on a team, their self-confidence grows and they have the capacity to blow away opponents. 

But I have question marks over their ability to come from behind and eke out a win in a tightly contested game.

Last Sunday on the front page of the Sunday World sports supplement I posed the question: Are Cork the real deal?

Well the answer is an emphatic no based on what we witnessed in Croke Park. With the honourable exceptions of James Loughrey who won his battle against Bernard Brogan; Michael Shields who got the better of Diarmuid Connolly and Colm O’Neill, the rest of the squad both individually and collection threw in the towel very early.

What’s even more worrying is that this is the third time in less than 12 months that they have collapsed. . It suggests that the squad lack confidence, are mentally fragile and most certainly have no on-field leaders. 

Why were the Rebels so bad? Their new counter-attacking style proved a success during the spring.. But then none of the teams they beat were at their best.

Their game plan is not designed to chase a game. Too many of their forward spent too much time at the wrong end of the field leaving their two class attackers isolated inside.

Worse still, it invites opponents to come forward which is not a good idea in the wide open expanses of Croke Park.  In fact it is pure kamikaze tactics to invite Philly McMahon, Jonny Cooper and, in particular, Jack McCaffrey to roam forward.

Cork were in a similar position this time last year but still  got within a couple of scores of beating Mayo in the All-Ireland quarter final. I don’t fancy them to part a Lazarus the Sequel.

None of the three players they used in midfield last Sunday, Eoin Cadogan, Fintan Goold or Conor Dorman are primary ball winners and it’s asking a lot of the returning Alan O’Connor, who has been out of inter-county football for a season and a half, to rescue them.

The Munster semi-final against the winners of the Limerick v Clare tie is a potential banana skin and they if survive the face a trip to Killarney where their record is very poor.