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Sunday 4 December 2016

Ciaran Whelan: Jack Sheedy's Longford could be the perfect test for the Dubs

Longford ultra-defensive system would be perfect early summer test of mettle for Gavin's men

Alan Brogan, Dublin, in action against Dermot Brady, Longford in 2006
Alan Brogan, Dublin, in action against Dermot Brady, Longford in 2006

I have a vivid memory of 2006 leaving Pearse Park after an uncomfortable win in the first round of the Leinster Championship against Longford.

Just glad to be back on the bus and on the road home there was a huge sense of relief that we had got out with a narrow victory. You could hear a pin drop on the bus all the way home as we waited in anticipation for the dreaded video session the following Tuesday night. We also knew what could have been that day and the potential shock that had just been avoided.

Longford had turned around a 19-point deficit in Croke Park in 2005 and had ran us to two points in a game we could have easily have lost. Games like that can prove to be a catalyst for teams and it probably served us better at the time going forward.

It is against this backdrop that the argument is still made for Dublin to play outside Croke Park.

However, that remains the decision of the Leinster Council and the counties in the province that voted on that decision. End of argument.

motivation

Looking ahead to this Sunday's clash in Croke Park, times have changed and both teams have evolved over the last few years.

There was a time when the extra motivation of playing Dubs brought the best out of the underdog. Nobody feared Dublin, opposition counties raised their games and like that day in 2006 they came into the game believing they could win.

It would be easy to throw out a few positive clichés about Longford's prospects on Sunday ie having a game under their belt etc, etc.

Behind the dressing room door there is no doubt that Jack Sheedy will try to instill belief and confidence into his team.

But, regretfully, the reality is a lot different. Longford will not beat Dublin on Sunday, simple as. There is simply too much of a gulf in talent between both the counties and any margin within ten points will be deemed a success.

fought

For a team picking from a population of just over 40,000, Longford to their credit have fought above their weight in recent years through the qualifiers taking out teams like Mayo and Derry along the way.

So how does Sheedy approach taking on the Dubs in the large open spaces of Croke Park?

He has a couple of options. He can play football in the traditional Longford manner against Dublin or alternatively set up his team to play against the scoreboard and the margin of defeat.

This game epitomises the reasons why the modern day manager is fully justified in implementing a severe defensive strategy.

Firstly, Jack will have identified that Dublin are still learning their way in dealing with such a system.

Secondly, he needs his team to be in this game for as long as possible in order to maintain their intensity levels.

Thirdly, he needs his team to leave Croke Park with a memory of a positive experience and keep morale high for the qualifiers in a few weeks.

favour

Alternatively, Sheedy could go with a traditional Longford game plan, going man-to-man and maintaining at least four forwards up front. With this comes the risk of been handed your backside on a plate within ten minutes of the start, leaving his players looking for the exit door and wishing the 70 minutes would just come to an end.

It's a difficult decision for Sheedy.

Devising and implementing a game-plan against one of the top teams in the country is a difficult task.

The defensive mentality is not in the Longford DNA and any bad defensive systems will be exposed very quickly. Longford will actually do Dublin a favour if Sheedy was to opt for a nuclear defensive approach.

Jim Gavin knows that his team will inevitably come up against this system of play throughout this championship and no better place to start than Sunday.

If Longford go man-to-man the game could be done and dusted after 20 minutes with Dublin running up a big score. This scenario will prove fruitless for Dublin in the long run.

Dublin come into this game with a few injuries worries which will give Longford some ray of hope. I suspect however that Gavin will not risk some of his players and he will use it as an opportunity to enhance the competition for starting places as the summer progresses.

So we can expect Longford to approach this game with belief and ambition but there will be a turning point in the game where Dublin turn the screw. It simply is a case of at what stage of the game it happens. After that it is simply a question of whether Longford can maintain any level of resistance or will the white flag be raised in more than one context.

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