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Dublin: 11 °C Tuesday 24 October, 2017
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Rebel yell: how Cork derailed Dublin on Leeside yesterday

Pat Gilroy’s Dublin ended their league campaign on a bum note in Cork, but Conor Counihan won’t be overly pleased either.

Cork's Graham Canty with Michael Darragh MacAuley of Dublin at the end of the game.
Cork's Graham Canty with Michael Darragh MacAuley of Dublin at the end of the game.
Image: INPHO/Donall Farmer

Reproduced with permission from Action81

DUBLIN’S LEAGUE CAMPAIGN ended with defeat in Cork but neither manager will be overly pleased with the displays at Páirc Uí Chaoimh on Sunday. Emmet Ryan examines this final-round encounter.

Cork take the direct approach

The Rebels played to their strengths early and had the room to do it. Dublin tried to press high from the start but with Cork committed to playing up the middle, the hosts had plenty of opportunities to score in the opening period.

Passing was direct and up the gut, targeting the spine of Dublin’s defence. This has been an effective tactic for Cork against Dublin on previous occasions and was a sensible approach early. Aidan Walsh and Donncha O’Connor both scored inside three minutes while Colm O’Neill struck wide in the fourth via moves through the middle.

The decision to play Walsh high continues to prove an interesting experiment but was little more on  Sunday despite his scores. While his goal would eventually prove the final margin between the two sides, his commitment to a 14 role limited his use and Walsh made far more of a visible impact when he came further out the field. The goal itself was simple and well-worked, like so many Cork scores in the first half. Fintan Goold pumped the ball in from over 50m out and Walsh, having initially moved to catch, got the faintest of touches inside the large rectangle to send the ball past Michael Savage in the Dublin goal. Conor Counihan may see Walsh in a potential Michael Murphy role, one that will test the stamina of the big man as it effectively requires him to play both holding position in front of midfield and move in as a primary target.

Another notable aspect early was the increasing attacking role of Graham Canty. The Bantry Blues man has adopted a more advanced role upfield in this campaign appears to suit his pace. Without the speed to play a pure box to box role, Canty is being given more latitude to attack and trust that there will be cover back in defence for him. The impact of his power in this game was evident in the opening period.

Up front his pace disadvantage is less pronounced as he can play as an outlet rather than a target before advancing.

Dublin’s transition issues

With Dublin’s defence struggling early, Eamon Fennell was called on to drop into a deeper role in support early. This added extra responsibility to what appeared to be a full plate for the midfielder. His ball winning and movement was sound but Fennell effectively became a chief play-maker for Dublin, a role for which his passing game really wasn’t suited. The visitors moved the ball reasonably well out of defence and into midfield but the push into the Rebels’ territory was disjointed. While not nearly the full-blown panic witnessed in Castelbar, Dublin didn’t appear to have a plan going forward in the first half.

Dublin drop deep press more

While Gilroy’s charges worked on getting bodies behind the ball in the first half, they stepped up the game considerably after the break. By dropping much deeper Dublin’s attack was able to develop with more patience and better exploit Kevin McManomon’s runs. McManomon’s straight-ahead running caused issues for Cork’s defence all day and resulted in multiple frees in scoring position on Sunday.

Bryan Cullen and Diarmuid Connolly were linking up well together in attack and the gap was narrowed from 6 points to 2 by the 49th minute.

Cork finally registered a score after the break a minute later as their attack struggled to break through the wall of blue bodies. There was an element of caution without craft to Cork’s approach early in the second half. The Rebels were wary of turning the ball over but didn’t adapt their positioning to suit a slower tempo than the way they opened the game. The result was a lot of lateral passing with players becoming isolated before Dublin forced the turnover. A defensive switch would howeverbring Cork’s attack back into the game and secure victory for the home side.

Dublin’s Diarmuid Connolly with Michael Shields of Cork. INPHO/Donall Farmer

Here comes the Mirror Man

I’ll never miss a cheap opportunity to reference Phil Oakey. While struggling to break through Dublin’s approach of putting bodies behind the ball, Cork eventually switched tack and started playing much deeper as well. Critically this gave Dublin less room to develop attacks, with space once again at a premium. Now playing a more patient game, Cork carved out a pair of opportunities for Paudie O’Neill which the midfielder converted.

The verdict

Dublin’s tactical switch in the second half brought Pat Gilroy’s side back into the game but once Cork adapted, there was only likely to be one winner. With few natural scorers on the park, Dublin were effectively relying on their defence outperforming their Cork counterparts substantially over the final 20 minutes.

In the end that period was a stalemate and Cork’s work up to then was enough to see them home and into the semi-finals. Counihan will be pleased his side eventually adapted to Dublin’s deeper defence and there was certainly more intelligence to this response than in Ballybofey. The Rebels’ ability to adapt once route one is shut down is far from the finished article and there is still cause for concern.

Dublin’s squad rotation experiment in the league ended in defeat and with it failure to make the semi-finals. The fruits of Gilroy’s approach will only be seen in the summer. Until then the decision to aim for giving more players quality minutes over settling on a XV will remain cause for debate. Both approaches have their merits, only one result will do from either.

Follow Emmet Ryan on Twitter.

Read more at Action81

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Emmet Ryan

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