Cullen admits top gear remains elusive

It can’t be easy maintaining an appetite when you are All-Ireland champions and all the more so when your next opponent is being dismissed by every supporter you meet and pundit you hear in the days prior to the game.

Dublin’s players couldn’t but have been affected by it. After all, Laois had been accommodating whipping boys the last three times the sides had met in the championship and they were the rank outsiders of the eight sides remaining in the championship at the weekend.

“We did speak going into the game about that,” said captain Bryan Cullen, who has been facing their Leinster rivals for almost a decade now.

“We couldn’t underestimate Laois. To be honest, I don’t think we did.

“We went at that game pretty hard. Some loose hand passing and loose kick passing let us down. But we certainly didn’t take them for granted. We went at them hard. They were just able to respond and give as good as they got.”

Cullen’s first championship tussle with Laois came back in 2003 when Mick O’Dwyer’s fluid and free-scoring side edged past Dublin in a famous provincial semi-final. The Laois outfit he faced two days ago could have hardly been more different.

That Leinster-winning side from nine years ago was one littered with small but skilful players but Justin McNulty’s current crop is one loaded with big men and, in that, it harks back to some of the more bruising sides the county has put out.

“Laois are a good side,” Cullen emphasised. “They have got a lot of good players, very strong around the middle and at the back. We knew we were going to get nothing easy there. We’re just happy we got through it. It was tough.

“Any loose ball you got around the middle, you were certainly getting hit and it was tough to get out of there. Laois in the past have been criticised for not being physical enough. But they’ve worked hard and they’re a physical team now.”

Mayo’s evolution has been pretty similar. The meeting of James Horan and Pat Gilroy’s sides in the All-Ireland semi-final will evoke memories of that famous last four clash six years ago when the Connacht side thieved a one-point win at the death.

Like Laois, Mayo traded on flair (and frailty) at the time but they too have recognised the way the wind is blowing through modern football and adapted accordingly with a style that recognises the need for graft as well as guile.

Their 12-point dismissal of a woeful Down team doesn’t tell us much about their capabilities. Neither did the breeze that was their Connacht semi-final against Leitrim or the error-fest that masqueraded as the provincial decider against Sligo.

That said, they carry some semblance of form into the semi-final, which is more than Dublin can say after a fitful summer that has so far delivered another Leinster title but little in the way of reassurance that they can retain the Sam Maguire.

“Yeah, you would be a little disappointed we haven’t hit top gear,” said Cullen.

“The positive is that we haven’t been creating the chances. We know it is in us and it’s a matter of trying to knuckle down and try to get that performance out of the group.”

Time is rapidly running against them.


Lifestyle

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