case for defence starting to work in Dublin's favour
We have a lot of areas to improve on: Gavin
THE difference, it is quickly becoming apparent, between the Dublin team of 2015 and that of last year, is their ability to batter away at these defensive structures whilst maintaining some sense of their own responsibilities at the back.
The template is there.
Westmeath had all of two weeks to stitch their version of the blanket together and largely, it worked.
Shipping just eight points by half-time, a juncture at which most expected them to be buried up to their necks in a Dublin avalanche, tells its own frustrating story.
But they scored a paltry four themselves and kicked only two wide and a more revealing statistic of Dublin's greater defensive acumen is the seven mid-to-long range shots Westmeath dropped into Stephen Cluxton's waiting arms.
"That is the challenge for any team that plays that defensive counter-attacking style, you need to make profit when you attack," reflected Jim Gavin afterwards.
"That's the challenge obviously for us defensively, to make sure that they don't score on their counter-attacks.
"The boys relish this challenge. Coming into the game it was one of the game-plans that we thought they might roll out and they did. I thought we handled it very well."
By the second half, Dublin had changed tack somewhat.
Then, they elected to pin Westmeath into their own half.
Jack McCaffrey, clinical in both his defensive and attacking contributions, played almost as an auxiliary wing-forward.
But Dublin's caution not to be caught with their pants down a la Donegal last year contributed to that first half when space and time for either attack were mere rumors.
"They could have played it either way," Gavin suggested.
"They haven't played that defensive or that counter-attacking before. I haven't seen that before from them but I thought they did it quite well.They can play orthodox as well and they've shown that they can hurt teams when they do that.
"Even when we got the two quick goals I thought they stayed in the game," he pointed out.
"They limited us to 2-5 in the second half."
For all their experience now, Dublin still aren't entirely comfortable in the company of such a system.
A stack of wides 16 high confirms that. As does the number of ill-conceived or poorly executed kick passes they missed their mark from across Westmeath's '65'.
"To score 2-13 and to have so many missed shots would be very disappointing, that's for sure," agreed the Dublin manager.
"It does give us areas to work on on the training field.
"We pride ourselves on the technical aspects of the game and we work very hard on that in our training sessions. It's all skill-based. That certainly gives us focus now for the next three weeks.
"We maybe forced the shots. I think we worked the ball into good shooting positions, and the shots were on when they took them, but the execution wasn't the best.
"I thought we controlled it better in the second half. I thought we did a good job in the first half as well.
"We expected that they might set themselves up that way," he added.
"The decision-making let us down once or twice, and hand passes when they weren't on. The execution of that technical area, it's one of the areas that we train hard on and I know that the players themselves will be disappointed with that."
For their part, Tom Cribbin said Westmeath had "no choice" but to change their style completely for this one game, adding "I felt at half-time we were in with a chance.
"They have so much collective pace and power," he explained. "Even their young players, they're just very composed on the ball and very, very quick.
"They have natural pace everywhere, it's not just fitness or size.
"They have an awful lot of natural pace and for most smaller counties...you know, like, you can work the game structure right.
"I thought our lads done it very well in the first-half, we weren't counter attacking at the pace I wanted, the same level of intensity that we were putting into the tackling.
"I thought we would get forward a little bit more.
"You know I was very proud of the lads," Cribbin concluded.
"The way they stuck to their game in the second-half because Dublin could overrun you very easily and in a very short space of time."