Dubs have pace and power to edge Rebels
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Dubs have pace and power to edge Rebels

YOU can make a case for anything this Sunday.

Theory one: the evidence suggests that Cork will be heading for a first All-Ireland hurling final since 2006.

The Rebels beat Clare by a distance in Munster, had been outplaying Limerick but then Pat Horgan was sent off before half-time in the provincial final, and outhurled Kilkenny throughout the All-Ireland quarter-final.

You could say that Cork have produced against the two semi-finalists in the other side of the final four, managed what Tipperary didn’t have the balls to do against Kilkenny. And, of course, they have Jimmy Barry Murphy, the inspiration who previously took a young Cork side to All-Ireland success in 1999.

Theory two: Dublin will be in a first Liam MacCarthy Cup decider since 1961.

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Why? Because they’ve found their best XV, have incrementally grown in confidence since drawing with Kilkenny, beat the Cats in a replay and then hammered Galway in the Leinster final.

Let’s delve a little deeper though. Dublin were destroyed in the league semi-final by Tipperary. Anthony Daly explained that the week before this limp defeat was the only time they could fit in a Bere Island training camp and while that’s logical, it does not fully explain a 15-point loss, 4-20 to 0-17.

The Dublin manager had to make three substitutions inside 27 minutes and, between personnel and positions, more than half of the starting team will be different for the All-Ireland semi-final.

The drawn Leinster clash with Wexford was desperate stuff, and will be remembered only for Ger Loughnane’s description of Dublin’s “pure, constipated hurling”. That’s not so long ago.

What we shouldn’t forget is that Wexford would likely have made the Leinster semi-final had substitute Mark Schutte been called for dropping his hurley before assisting Eamon Dillon for a late goal that put the Dubs ahead, before the Models levelled.

Dublin should have beaten a weakened Kilkenny well in Portlaoise when the teams drew. Henry Shefflin, Michael Fennelly and Jackie Tyrrell were absent, while Paul Murphy had to go off in the first half.

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GAA Hurling All Ireland Senior Championship Quarter-Final, Cork vs Kilkenny Pa Horgan was key to Cork's win over Kilkenny

The Dubs didn’t put the Cats away but still this was the game that instilled belief. It was the performance that should have been delivered a year earlier when they lost by 18 points, but their eventual victory in 2013 came by degrees. They won the replay but, like Cork, had to battle their own nerves late on.

An analysis of the Leinster final is where it really gets interesting. Galway were truly woeful and the team selection pointed to this — Anthony Cunningham left two leading stars, Damien Hayes and Andy Smith, on the bench.

That he needed to bring them on during the first half and that both excelled then weakened the manager’s position only further. He was proven wrong in his selections, and their set-up fed into Dublin’s dominance.

In some ways, you could compare Galway’s chopping and changing to Dublin’s from earlier in the year.

Cunningham made a further six changes for the defeat to Clare and left five of his 14 All Star nominations from 2012 on the bench, and Dublin had similar issues in recent times. Daly had been rearranging the deck chairs earlier in the year but, rather than jump ship, he righted it.

Dublin stopped experimenting with Johnny McCaffrey at centre-forward and returned the captain to midfield — where he is now excelling.

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Conal Keaney looks certain to earn an All Star in the half-forwards, now that the messing about with him at centre-back has ceased. Liam Rushe had been dragged from Billy to Jack in his time on the senior Dublin team, a migratory firefighter for wherever Dublin are having an issue.

In the replay with Wexford, and despite his side’s dominance, the St Pat’s man was taken off after a poor performance at wing-back with 10 minutes to go. Now he is a candidate for Hurler of the Year having been allowed settle at six.

The rapid nature of their transformation leaves us wondering if Dublin can genuinely go from a rickety outfit to watertight in the space of a few games — which were against an ailing Kilkenny and a self-destructive Galway team.

Dublin captain Johnny McCaffrey (right) is back playing in midfield. Dublin captain Johnny McCaffrey (right) is back playing in midfield.

No matter how they got to this stage, they now possess a key ingredient that is worth more than anything else in sport: belief.

That’s something that Cork, despite their history and tradition of winning are still also building.

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If they truly felt as though they were better than Kilkenny, they would have won by 10 points; they had the potential to be that much better.

There were nervy moments — conceding two goal chances after Shefflin’s dismissal — and the team retreated into its own half late in the game. Plenty of the forward line need to find confidence ahead of the semi-final to propel their challenge: Pa Cronin, Conor Lehane, Jamie Coughlan and Luke O’Farrell are all capable of much more.

Again, getting across the line against the giant of the game, no matter how, will imbue them with belief. Not to mention that Cork don’t just think, but in their minds, know they are better than Dublin. That might be worth a few points at the start of the game.

As we draw towards the end of this semi-final, Dublin’s superior panel might be the difference, with the likes of Mark Schutte wreaking havoc in recent games when introduced.

As for the starters, Keaney and Danny Sutcliffe should provide a much stiffer test for wing-backs William Egan and Tom Kenny, who had it handy against an unfit Shefflin and Cillian Buckley. This will be key to the result and where we feel Dublin have the edge.

Horgan was the difference against Kilkenny and he will most likely be picked up by Peter Kelly, whose speed and skill present a tough proposition for any full-forward. The worry sometimes for Dublin is that Kelly will try to do too much hurling — he has played much of his career out the field — and attempt to defend too often from the front.

It was precisely this that led to a mistake for Lar Corbett’s early goal in the 2011 semi. On the other hand, he is good enough to clean house too — it’s just that it could go wrong.

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There’s nothing between the sides as far as the bookies go and the more you try to weigh up the pros and cons of each teams’ performances this year, the less clear it becomes. For pace and power alone, we’ll just about stick on theory two.

 

Twitter: @Shanesaint