Posted by Shane Stapleton

We ask Ciaran Whelan what both the Dubs and Rebels need to do to get the best out of the forward lines — and the role of Graham Canty

454931 1040x560 smallSuch is the strength of the Dublin and Cork panels, the first fifteens don’t just pick themselves.

Jim Gavin is in his first season as manager of the Dubs and so he will always have his doubters until he delivers an All-Ireland title, such in the lie of the land in GAA.

He will also have his every selection scrutinised, such as the inside forward line where Eoghan O’Gara replaced the injured Paddy Andrews against Meath in the Leinster final.

Dublin certainly didn’t shoot the lights out at Croke Park that day, and Gavin has plenty of options for the clash with the Rebels. Andrews is on the way back from a hip injury and was in sumptuous form against Westmeath hitting 1-3, while O’Gara came off the bench to fire 1-2 against Kildare in the semi. Things didn't go as well against the Royals.

We asked eircom GAA ambassador Ciaran Whelan about the alignment of Dublin’s attack: “I like the balance of the team that was playing earlier on in the championship. I thought Paddy Andrews had a very, very good league campaign and I thought the role that he was playing at full forward was very effective.

“He created space for Paul Mannion and Bernard Brogan by drifting out to the wings to pick up ball and his use of possession was very intelligent. I think he has actually been a loss to Dublin. Eoghan O’Gara tends to be a good impact player — he was well matched up with Kevin Reilly against Meath and Michael Shields would fit into that pairing.

“I would like to see somebody else at the edge of the square with a little more mobility. Paddy Andrews would be the preference but without Paddy Andrews I’d be pushing Diarmuid Connolly in there with more offensive threat in the full-forward line. If you were to do that you look at introducing Bryan Cullen in at wing-forward with Paul Flynn and Ciaran Kilkenny.”

Conor Counihan has taken plenty of flak for his team selections, as we discussed on Monday. Last year, the Rebels boss made the brave move of lining out with seven forwards against Donegal in the All-Ireland semi-final, and at times this year he’s operated with an extra defender.

Against Galway, Counihan left pacy ballcarriers Paddy Kelly and Paul Kerrigan on the bench, while posting powerful midfielder Aidan Walsh in the half-forward line.

“I don’t think Cork really know their best 15,” says Whelan. “They’ve been tampering with game plans and they’ve been utilising Mark Collins and John O’Rourke as additional defenders. By using them in that role, they’re sacrificing their offensive threat; it’s the reason they’ve left out a couple of their key forwards.

Cork’s natural game and their strength is playing attacking football. In doing that I think they’re going to have attacking players on the pitch like Paul Kerrigan, Paddy Kelly and maybe keeping Mark Collins as he does effective work in the mixed zone between the half-backs and the half-forwards.

"Cork need to have an offensive threat and to do that they need the likes of Brian Hurley, Ciaran Sheehan, Paul Kerrigan and Paddy Kelly all in their forward line, with the option of using Aidan Walsh if they need to add a bit of extra power. Cork have been struggling to get that balance to their team right tactically and in terms of personnel.”

It’s not as if the selection issues don’t permeate back into the defence either. Graham Canty played at six against Galway and the Tribe were able to burst through on occasion.

James Loughrey has been playing some good football since his transfer from Antrim but as taken off during the second half. Such is his pace and ability to drive a counterattack, he would seem to be one of the notable options to play at centre-back — along with either Michael Shields on Eoin Cadogan.

“I think Cork have a weakness down the central channel,” Whelan agrees. “Graham Canty has been a fantastic footballer and an ambassador for the game but Gaelic football can be cruel in the latter part of your career.

“He’s just a bit caught out for pace down that central channel but whether Cork are going to make that change I’m not so sure. Michael Shields might be better suited to come out at number six but I don’t think that will happen either.

“Cork are supplementing that weakness by dropping men back but its costing them in the forward line. Maybe utilising Graham Canty as a seventh defender in a freer role might be the way that they will go but they’re doing to have to close down that central channel.

“Dublin will be very, very strong with backs attacking from deep and Ciaran Kilkenny and Diarmuid Connolly in and around that area.”

Coming into the All-Ireland quarter-final, both teams seem to have as many questions as answers.

Last Five Championship Clashes
2010: Cork 1-15 Dublin 1-14 (All-Ireland semi-final)
1995: Dublin 1-12 Cork 0-12 (All-Ireland semi-final)
1989: Cork 2-10 Dublin 1-9 (All-Ireland semi-final)
1983: Dublin 4-15 Cork 2-10 (All-Ireland semi-final replay)
1983: Dublin 2-11 Cork 2-11 (All-Ireland semi-final)

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