All Ireland: Ulstermen's objective is to watch and learn
Six Ulstermen in particular will study every aspect of tomorrow’s Dublin v Cork All Ireland semi-final — and with good reason.
Down manager James McCartan, his coach Brian McIver, trainer Paddy Tally and selector Jerome Johnston will join Kildare boss Kieran McGeeney and his assistant Aidan O’Rourke in putting the Dubs and the Leesiders under the microscope in the hope of confronting the winners in next month’s All Ireland final.
While none of the sextet is prepared to look beyond the meeting of their teams next weekend, the opportunity to undertake vital homework is too good to miss.
McCartan, still hoping injured skipper Ambrose Rogers will be fit, predicts that tomorrow’s contest will provide “concrete evidence” of just how tough it will be to win the All Ireland final.
“Dublin and Cork have big points to prove here and this will be a cliff-hanger,” he said.
“I know people are saying that all four teams left the race are just two matches away from lifting ‘Sam’ but the semi-finals and final are the two most high pressure games that any team will play in a given year.”
Trainer Tally is quick to point out that while Down have surprised even themselves to date, the fact that they are in the last four is the spur to go the distance.
“We will look at tomorrow’s game and take everything on board. No-one in Down or Kildare is counting their chickens before they are hatched but you have to arm yourself with information in case in should be needed,” observes Tally, who trained Tyrone when they won their first All Ireland title in 2003.
Kildare boss McGeeney is even more apprehensive than usual as he surveys the last four landscape.
Critical of his side even when they were winning early qualifier matches, he accepts they have improved considerably. But he stresses that Dublin and Cork will provide a totally new level of Championship intensity.
“I have maintained from the start that we ourselves needed to keep improving because the bar was being raised by other sides,” says McGeeney.
“Tomorrow’s game will give us all a real insight into the real strengths of Dublin and Cork. It’s a very hard match to call.”
Aidan O’Rourke, who has made quite an impact with Kildare since taking over from Paul Grimley, suggests that while Cork were being mooted as All Ireland favourites earlier in the year, the dismissal of both Kerry and Tyrone has brought a whole new dimension to the competition.
“The four sides left all have viable claims to become All Ireland champions and this is what makes it so compelling,” says O’Rourke.
“There is very little between the teams and I think everyone will be paying very close attention to tomorrow’s game, particularly from a tactical perspective.”