Cork's resilience will be the toughest obstacle for Dublin to overcome
The teams will meet in the All-Ireland final for the third consecutive time this weekend17:37 Friday 23 September 2016, 17:37 23 Sep 2016
The 2016 Ladies All-Ireland football final presents Cork with the opportunity to extend their greatness, while Dublin are seeking redemption.
Making it to six All-Ireland finals with a return of just one win is not a statistic that befits the strength of the Dublin squads that reached the deciders. And yet, here we are. Three of those defeats were against Cork, which surely adds to the sense of hurt as they prepare to face their old foes again.
Is 2016 the year when hurt gets converted into conviction? That's for them to decide.
Meanwhile, Cork continue as Cork always do. The apparent weight of potentially achieving a sixth All-Ireland title in-a-row - which would amount to 11 All-Ireland wins from 12 seasons - has done little to cause disruption.
They've even absorbed some big losses in personnel (Eamonn Ryan, Valerie Mulcahy etc.) without much difficulty. A seven point loss to Mayo in the first round of the League was not ideal, but Cork have made manageable work out of the transition.
Munster and National League honours are already theirs, and in a sport where silverware is the currency, Cork have an abundance of riches. In short, the Cork to Croke Park service is still operating as normal under the new boss Ephie Fitzgerald.
A comparison of the semi-final performances puts Cork in front by a nose. A second half rally of four points on the spin from Monaghan made a game of it at the Gaelic Grounds, but the first half damage was irreparable. Dublin on the other hand, conceded a first half lead against Mayo and, but for a last minute free from Sinead Aherne, extra-time would have been needed to settle that tie.
But retired Cork player Juliet Murphy remarks on one aspect of that game which could leave Dublin in better shape for the final.
“I thought something that struck me hugely, even towards the latter end of the game, was the huge pace," explains Murphy. "Even the last eight or nine minutes were just end-to-end in search of that leading point. The commitment and the intensity of both teams was phenomenal. I really felt for Mayo, and I thought they were deserving of a draw.”
Looking towards the clash on Sunday, a number of players will renew rivalries that are almost a decade old at this point. Brid Stack, Briege Corkery and Deirdrie O'Reilly are long-acquainted with Sinead Aherne and Lindsey Davey.
But Murphy believes that Dublin's Niamh McEvoy could be a key player in this tie.
"I think McEvoy is key to Dublin’s success. In 2014 in the first final, she won quite a lot of ball. She’s a great ball winner and everything was being played through her.
"People will always look to Sinead Aherne and Lindsey Davey and their pace, but I think Niamh is key to their game in terms of her winning primary possession and the girls peeling off her. She’s got great hands and she’s not afraid to take her score, but she’s very unselfish with the ball as well.
"Whoever will be marking her, be it Roisin Phelan or Brid Stack, will have a very tough job. It’s paramount that if Cork win, they must stay on top of Niamh and not allow her to win that primary ball."
"Like any football game, I think midfield is key. I think Sorcha Furlong is playing sort of a holding role. I don’t know if you can necessarily play a holding role against the likes of Briege Corkery, I think someone will have to follow her. Briege’s energy is vital for Cork. I know she’s been on the road a long time, but I still think her athleticism remains. I don’t see her tiring."
Cork's calmness v Dublin's panic
Cork's most important asset is their ability to hold a lead. It's a skill they have developed, honed and reinvented over the years. And while Dublin have managed to apply something similar against virtually every other team they have faced competitively, Cork remain the opposition that can force Dublin's hand on the panic button.
The inexplicable comeback in 2014 is the reference point in this case. Dublin were cruising with a 10-point advantage, only for Cork to arrest the lead in the closing moments of the game.
In trying to understand that roadblock for Dublin, Juliet Murphy suggests that it may have something to do with patience.
“I’ve been thinking about the whole philosophy and psychology around what has happened to Dublin in the past, particularly with Cork and losing leads that they have built up. The sports psychology books say that if you think about the winning when you’re ahead, that’s when you’re at your most vulnerable because you’ve stepped away from the present.
"I think that happens with Dublin ever so slightly in that there’s an urgency to get to the end. But there’s a process that must take place, 20 or 30 minutes before that. I think that goes against them from time to time. Football is to be played very much in the present, much like any other sport, and if you wander either side of that - forwards or backwards - you’re in a very vulnerable position.”
"Cork, over the years, have often found themselves very much backs to the walls in terms of trying to regain a vantage point. There are still girls left who have learned that over the years, and there’s a resilience built up in the team.
"I do feel though that Dublin will have learned a lot from the last few defeats and I’m not so sure that if they do build up a lead that they will let go this year."
"But it’s a question mark over them. Dublin won their All-Ireland in 2010, and I’m sure at that point they never thought they’d be waiting six years to win another one. Maybe they have that point to prove, and that’s their driving force."
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