Sunday, Cork v Kildare, Croke Park, 2pm (Ref: Joe McQuillan, Cavan)
Latest from the medics and management…Cork emerge from their long summer slumber and wake up in August but just a glance their line-up reminds us of why we tipped them to win it all at the start of the season. The defence is as good in the air as it is on the ground (Ray Carey may be the only weak link), Paudie Kissane is having an All Star season as a ball-carrier and the midfield is high and mighty.
Then we get to the forwards. In Goold they have the play-maker, in Sheehan the battering ram, in Kerrigan the speedster, in Goulding (expect him to start for Murphy), O’Connor and O’Neill, three of the better point takers around. The one fault we find is their inability to beat teams with positivity. Despite their attacking talent they’ve chosen throughout the season to grind down teams rather than playing an orthodox game with the best line-up in football.
CORK: Alan Quirke (Valley Rovers); Ray Carey (Clyda Rovers), Michael Shields (St Finbarr’s), Eoin Cadogan (Douglas); Paudie Kissane (Clyda Rovers), Graham Canty (Bantry Blues), Noel O’Leary (Cill na Martra); Alan O’Connor (St Colum’s), Aidan Walsh (Kanturk); Fintan Goold (Macroom), Ciarán Sheehan (Éire Óg), Paul Kerrigan (Nemo Rangers); Colm O’Neill (Ballyclough), Donncha O’Connor (Ballydesmond), Nicholas Murphy (Carrigaline).
As of now there are no changes to the Kildare line-up but last weekend was the first time this summer that paper matched pitch when it comes to Kieran McGeeney’s selection. Their performance in Sligo gives credence to the side staying the same but the match-ups make you think there might be changes.
Daryl Flynn and Hugh Lynch are nearing full fitness and could be needed at centrefield while Eamonn Callaghan made his return from the bench last week and would be key in the breaking ball battle. As for Seánie Johnston, it’s likely he will be kept in reserve but all that adds up to one of Kildare’s great strengths. Options through depth and in a war of attrition that could prove important.
KILDARE: Shane Connolly (St Laurence’s); Ollie Lyons (Celbridge), Peter Kelly (Two Mile House), Hugh McGrillen (Celbridge); Emmet Bolton (Eadestown), Morgan O’Flaherty (Carbury), Eoin Doyle (Naas); Michael Foley (Athy), Robert Kelly (Straffan); Eoghan O’Flaherty (Carbury), Mikey Conway (Nurney), John Doyle (Allenwood); Alan Smith (Sarsfields), Tomás O’Connor (Clane), James Kavanagh (Ballymore).
Checking the odds…Despite facing the best team in the country, the break hasn’t been considered and Kildare are probably a tad long at 9/4. Cork are the inverse while the draw is 15-2. The handicap is tight at two points while Kildare are 2/1 to lead at half-time which may be tempting given the systems failure in the football championship in terms of fixtures and regular football.
Clues from the form guide…The fact Cork have been relentless has seen them punished and for that reason they have no recent form as such. Clare was a run out but when regular games were there, regular wins were there as well. In the league final they bludgeoned Mayo to death, in the Munster semi-final they footballed their way passed their great rivals when Kerry tried to get physical. They have the confidence of 2010, the hurt of 2011, a full squad and if they can add momentum to that and find their stride early then it’s not just Kildare that need to beware.
As for Kieran McGeeney’s side, after a championship played out in a low gear, they finally upped the pace and returned to the basics that make them so successful last weekend. In beating Sligo their defence started high up the pitch, the intensity was high as was the turnover rate. It was that which gave their forwards a platform to kick on with Alan Smith, James Kavanagh and John Doyle in particular having good games. But they won’t be able to win this with physicality as they finally go to pick on someone their own size.
The game breakers are…Firstly, how Cork leave the blocks. We aren’t expecting them to race clear by nine points like they did when the side’s met at this stage in 2008 but Kildare will hope to get the early advantage. If not, it’s impossible to see them coming from behind. After that, in a sport that has become more and more about the team, individual match-ups will be crucial for once. Will Eoin Cadogan or Michael Shields pick up Tomás O’Connor and can Kildare get the right type and amount of ball into him? Can Peter Kelly avoid fouling Colm O’Neill? Can Hugh McGrillen track Donnacha O’Connor?
Cork’s Alan O’Connor. Pic: INPHO/James Crombie
Will Emmet Bolton get forward on Paul Kerrigan? Does Morgan O’Flaherty have the physicality to deal with Ciarán Sheehan? Can anyone live with that Cork midfield? Will Graham Canty have the legs for Micky Conway? Can Eoghan O’Flaherty kick clutch frees and what can contribute in open play? Can Kildare contain Cork’s wing backs? Excited yet? So many questions and so many personal battles that will decide the outcome.
Gazing into the crystal ball…Cork should win the majority of those match-ups and once that happens they won’t be stopped. They have the physicality to deal with a team of Kildare’s size and they have the midfield, half-back line and number 11 to make sure they take over on breaking ball. Eamonn Callaghan, should he start, cannot get the better of that many dirty-ball winners.
Once Cork have possession, they are hard to contain even if they can be a little ponderous in getting forward at pace. But it’s Kildare’s attack that worries us most. Over the years this group have always impressed in the qualifiers but against teams that match-up physically, they don’t create the space and time to keep up their high tallies and that costs them in close games. That should be the case here and we’ll see why Cork are the best team in the country, even if they’ll be sluggish early on.
Verdict…Cork by four