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Sunday 4 December 2016

Coman Goggins: Dublin's defence now has better shape

12 July 2015; Paddy Holloway, Westmeath, in action against Dublin players, left to right, Rory O'Carroll, Cian O'Sullivan, and John Cooper. Leinster GAA Football Senior Championship Final, Westmeath v Dublin, Croke Park, Dublin. Picture credit: D?ire Brennan / SPORTSFILE
12 July 2015; Paddy Holloway, Westmeath, in action against Dublin players, left to right, Rory O'Carroll, Cian O'Sullivan, and John Cooper. Leinster GAA Football Senior Championship Final, Westmeath v Dublin, Croke Park, Dublin. Picture credit: D?ire Brennan / SPORTSFILE
Kieran Martin, Westmeath, in action against Cian O'Sullivan

Over the last number of years as blanket defences have become ingrained in GAA terminology, the argument has arisen as to how anyone playing the game at the top level can enjoy it when they are asked to play under such restrictive terms and conditions?

There is a view that the narrow minded focus on stopping the opposition from playing rather than allowing players express their natural footballing abilities is a far better plan than trying to engage in man-on-man combat where the potential for death by multiple scores is a real and present danger.

In the run-up to last Sunday's Leinster final with Dublin I don't imagine a 13-man defensive shield was a hard sell for Westmeath manager Tom Cribbin.

Any video analysis would have highlighted the devastating consequences of affording space to Dublin's front six.

Nine goals in two games would be enough for any team to decide that preservation and damage limitation was a more palatable offering than a Leinster final trimming.

So with that in mind it is hard to be overly critical of the formation Westmeath employed, a strategy that effectively meant that unlike Longford and Kildare who trailed Dublin by 12 and 13 points respectively after 35 minutes, the midlanders were only down by four when Joe McQuillan sounded his whistle for half-time.

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What I am less accepting of is that management or indeed the players didn't decide when the game was drifting away from them to release the shackles and run at Dublin, as they had against Meath in that 20-minute miracle spell that turned what was a lost cause into one of the county's most memorable successes ever in the championship.

One of the most difficult aspects of the game for any defender to deal with is effecting a legal tackle when they are attacked at pace. I would be of the view that in most cases the first contact a defender makes is actually a foul if rigidly applying the rule-book definition of the tackle, which states that "the tackle is aimed at the ball, not the player" and that "deliberate bodily contact (such as punching, slapping, arm holding, pushing, tripping, jersey pulling or a full frontal charge) is forbidden".

In the likes of Paul Sharry and Kieran Martin, Cribbin's team have some really powerful and capable ball-carriers, who despite having their attacking capabilities severely restricted by the fact that they were double-jobbing so deep in their own half could have caused Dublin even greater problems, had the rest of the team been given licence to support them in the last 15 or 20 minutes.

The fact they didn't reflects starkly on the fact that individually, be it a defensive structure or an attacking platform, one without the other will result in a team coming up short on their championship ambitions, something Jim Gavin's Dublin would have found out to their cost last summer when Donegal hit them for three goals in their All-Ireland semi-final.

The positive this year is that as the Dubs arrive at what I'm sure was their first marker for the summer, a place in the All-Ireland quarter-finals, is that defensively there appears to be a better balance to the back six, particularly with the placing of Cian O'Sullivan at centre-back, who in the absence of Ger Brennan is an ideal fit for such a pivotal position.

ability

Along with his ability to read the game, his defensive strength will be critical to Dublin's progress, and was best reflected in one particular passage of play in the first-half when as the last man back he expertly shadowed Martin away from the danger area to deny the Westmeath man a clear run at goal.

In tandem with his Kilmacud Crokes club-mate Rory O'Carroll, Dublin's defensive spine appears well set for sterner challenges as the August bank holiday looms.

And the fact that they have come through their Leinster campaign without the concession of goal provides a clear indication of the learning this group took from that fateful game last summer.

If there is an area of concern for Gavin arising from the game, it would be from an attacking perspective.

Despite hitting 2-13 Dublin struggled to get that flow going in their forward movement as the masse of bodies resulted in them shooting 16 wides over the course of the game. Given that teams will look to further expose this perceived weakness the key for Gavin is not to criticise guys for taking a shot at the posts, but ensuring that rather than these efforts being a 50/50 chance, that they work harder at upping the percentages in their favour so that on the day the goals dry up, these shots become 70/30.

How effective the team becomes at this could potentially determine where the journey ends for Dublin this year, as the march to All-Ireland glory will most certainly have to pass the obstacles presented by another couple of defensive blankets.

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