Saturday 22 October 2016

Dublin must trust in pace and attacking instincts for replay

Lee Keegan will again try to curtail the influence of Diarmuid Connolly on Saturday. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Lee Keegan will again try to curtail the influence of Diarmuid Connolly on Saturday. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

If the build-up to the opening installment of the All-Ireland football final was dominated by preview nights, podcasts and just why Dublin were red-hot to secure back to back All-Ireland titles, the preamble to this weekend's game is saturated by heavy criticism of the Dubs' attack and the pressure on Jim Gavin.

Rarely has a team fallen so far in the space of two weeks where an offensive unit that has delivered 7-107 over the course of six games is now being scrutinised in advance of Saturday's replay with Mayo.

There is no doubt that the Dublin attack failed to deliver to the high standards that they have demonstrated over the last number of years, but to my mind this is less to do with the personnel and more to do with a style of play that has developed over the Summer that needs to be modified for the Dubs to push on and lift Sam again.

Promised land

When Pat Gilroy led Dublin to the Promised Land in 2011, one of the defining attributes of the team was their ability to create goal chances almost out of nothing. Time and again a point-taking opportunity was passed up as Dublin went for the jugular.

Since taking the reins, Jim Gavin has developed this trait and while the all-out attacking plan of 2013 has been modified to accommodate a sweeper system, the offensive fundamentals have in the main remained the same - hit teams with pace and break through the defensive cover.

The success of the template is unquestionable. Four consecutive National League crowns, two All-Ireland titles and a chance to go back to back for the first time in almost 40 years is proof positive that it delivers results. But as was evidenced last Sunday week, Dublin have drifted slightly from this formula to a slower, more measured build-up that, in my view, is hurting their attacking prowess.

I can't claim that the more methodical attacking system, orchestrated by Ciarán Kilkenny, is not something that is practiced as part of the game plan. But I am convinced that if Dublin can revert to moving the ball at pace they will pose significant questions of Mayo.

The absence of Jack McCaffrey has impacted on this running game, and the injury that ruled James McCarthy out of a couple of games further robbed Dublin of one of their most natural ball carriers. But a return to a more expansive game, without pulling Cian O'Sullivan out of position, has the potential to reap significant reward.

Paddy Andrews' contribution to the scoreboard places him top of the list as a possible starter, but even if Gavin sticks with his six from the drawn game, the key driver for Dublin is moving the ball to the inside line with runners coming off the shoulder.

This is where I believe the real shake-up lies for Gavin. Diarmuid Connolly will once more be surgically attached to Lee Keegan, and while his work rate in winning turn over ball was quiet staggering in the drawn game, Dublin need him to influence the game more from an attacking perspective.

I believe there are merits in placing Connolly on the edge of the square for a significant portion of the game and have Bernard Brogan or Dean Rock loitering with intent around him.

Not only would this bring Keegan out of his more natural habitat, it would mean that both players are under the gaze of a couple of umpires, something that might benefit the attacker.

Robbed of Kilkenny's attacking flair owing to McCarthy's black card, I honestly believe the Castleknock man could put himself in the frame for a man of the match performance if he opts to attack Mayo's defensive cordon.

His power and pace, aligned to his vision, has the potential to really unsettle Mayo's half back line, if the Dubs opt to go at Mayo.

Mayo's response in injury-time was a defining moment for a team which has learned to play on the edge as they seek a first All-Ireland in 65 years.

Simply replicating 2015 was never an option for Dublin but remaining true to the pure footballing ability that courses through this team has been the cornerstone of success. If Dublin can shift the mindset to a more attacking focus, their offensive know-how should shoot them over the line.

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