Will midfield decide the All-Ireland final?

IT’S apt, given we are in the middle of Listowel Race week, to draw an analogy between football and the sport of kings when discussing the possible midfield combinations for Sunday’s All-Ireland final.

On many occasions over the years at the Kerry venue I have lamented losing my stake on a ‘come-from-behind performer’ and there were the few rare occasions I have collected following a well judged ride from a top jockey.

In the case of both the Cork and Down management teams, they are fortunate to have a plentiful supply of good midfield talent to select from. But the question is who will finish the stronger.

Due to the unfortunate injury to Ambrose Rodgers, it is safe to assume that Kalum King and Peter Fitzpatrick will once again form their central partnership. In Down’s two appearances in Croke Park this year their midfield combinations have started well, struggled for periods in both games but ultimately have come out on top. Perhaps, not surprisingly, the same description could be applied to the team’s performances.

For the quarter-final win over Kerry, the Down management decided to start Rodgers and King and introduced their young tyro, Peter Fitzpatrick, off the bench in the second half.

Presumably, considering that result, they would have done likewise in the semi-final were it not for the injury sustained by Rodgers which forced them to start Fitzpatrick. Considering Brendan McVeigh seldom goes short with any of his kickouts it is vital to Down’s chances of victory that both secure their share of possession in the air.

The Cork management’s selection policy has been to start their young tyro Aidan Walsh and use their more experienced players, Alan O’Connor and Derek Kavanagh as either his starting partner or as substitutes with the man I consider their best midfielder, Nicholas Murphy used exclusively as an impact sub.

Walsh is a fine prospect who will develop into a top class player. But to me he is a footballer who betrays his youth and lack of experience regularly in big matches particularly with shot and pass selections.

Murphy is still one of the best ball winners in the game and again taking into account McVeigh’s kick out policy, it is not hard to envisage him having a major part to play in securing valuable primary possession from the start on Sunday. I’m aware that Murphy’s fitness has been compromised by a back problem but allowing for that, would it not be preferable to have his experienced contribution and proven ball winning ability from the start and then introduce Walsh at a latter stage?

In both of their appearances in Croke Park this year Cork have come from behind to win, convincingly against Roscommon and with the minimum to spare against Dublin. Murphy was introduced off the bench on both occasions to great effect but could he have influenced proceedings to a much greater extent starting?

I believe the winners of the midfield battle will decide the game as the respective forward combinations are more than capable of amassing winning totals given quality possession.

Based on that belief, if the Cork management team decide to hold Murphy in reserve and another ‘come-from-behind’ performance is the order of the day then they should prepare to have their collective nerves seriously tested.

It remains to be seen whether such a strategy will have them in the “winners enclosure” on Sunday evening.

Picture: Cork’s Nicholas Murphy (INPHO)


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