DONAL O'GRADY: Dublin will be targeting an early knockout against Cork

Cork must bypass Dublin centre-back Liam Rushe, writes Donal O’Grady.

Shackling Dublin’s Liam Rushe will be high on Cork’s agenda tonight. Rushe plays his position more or less as a traditional centre-back, holding the middle, covering for his wingmen, with the capability to score from long-range.

Cork have to target Rushe intelligently as he can dominate a game, particularly on a pitch with the dimensions of Páirc Uí Rinn. Kieran Kingston will have to impose a ban on long deliveries from his defence into Rushe’s zone. He is good in the air and long high balls into his territory are grist to his mill.

This lesson needs to be learned as the Rebels were very erratic with deliveries from defence against Tipperary, who built their attacking platform from half-back on direct turnovers. Cork must play clever, quick, accurate ball into the wing-forwards who should run at the Dubs defence to draw fouls at every opportunity.

When there is any threat of a long delivery into the Dublin defence, Rushe retreats immediately providing cover to his full back. This leaves space around the Metropolitans’ 45m line that can be exploited with short, quick stick passes.

An accurate attacker that can score from long range, like Conor Lehane, could poach a few points from this area with the right supply, forcing Rushe to ‘man-mark’ out from goal, which in turn will allow better access for Cork to the full-forward line.

However, the downside is closing down opponents isn’t the strongest area of Lehane’s game and limiting Rushe when he gets possession has to be another major component of Kingston’s plan. Cork attackers must swarm-tackle Rushe, preventing offloads or forcing him to strike under pressure.

He is a huge player for Dublin. Lessening his influence is essential.

In springtime in Croker, Dublin walloped Cork. When Dublin manager Ger Cunningham sat down to plan for victory, he will have based his strategy on the strengths the Dubs displayed and the weaknesses he spotted in Cork. Arguably, Cunningham’s inside forward line is his strongest.

Eamonn Dillon, Dotsy O’Callaghan and the tall Mark Schutte created huge problems in early March. Dotsy is a tricky runner and will be a big loss. Paul Ryan is more conventional but is a good score-taker. It’s no secret Cork are in “Old Mother Hubbard country”, as far as corner-backs are concerned, with captain Stephen McDonnell still out injured.

Cunningham will target two areas. Curtailing Seamus Harnedy and exploiting Cork’s full-back line will be the plan. Dublin will have worked on supplying quality ball to their pacy inside attack. In last year’s league semi Ryan O’Dwyer had success dropping back as a receiver for outlet ball from defence.

When the half-forward line drops back the prevailing wisdom is that opposing half-backs should stay in their positions and their midfield and half-forwards should tackle back. Some Rebel forwards don’t see tackling or tracking back as part of their ‘job description’.

There is an over-dependence on Bill Cooper and Brian Lawton in this regard although the selection of John Cronin will be a help. O’Dwyer or whoever drops back for Dublin will have a number of options from the right-wing. He could supply Schutte with angled deliveries from halfway with the dangerous Dillon, a good finisher, looping around outside the full-forward to run in on goal.

He could also run at his marker down the wing and offload to his right corner- forward, setting up a ‘one-on-one’ with the corner-back in the search for goals.

Or if he changes his angle of running from half-way, heading directly towards the right-hand goal post it would provide him with good options.

He would be in a better position to shoot or to link up with one of his midfielders. The wing-forward’s angled run would ‘fix’ both his marker and the centre-back together to block his run around the 45m line. Centre forward Niall McMorrow would then have the opportunity to run on to ‘over the top’ passes with a straight run on goal.

Meanwhile, the Dublin full-forward will have drifted left to make space.

Dublin are aware Cork are short on confidence and they are not Kilkenny. They will look to knock Cork back early by ramming in a few goals as they did in last year’s league semi. However, Kieran Kingston also knows Dublin are not Kilkenny and if the right questions are asked the Metropolitans may not have the answers.

The opening 15 minutes are crucial and Cork will have to lay down the markers in this period as they did against Kilkenny in the league.

It is a significant day for each Rebel, a day to come home with his shield — or on it.


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