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Saturday 19 August 2017

Dubs carry on like a wet Derry blanket

Oafk Leafers' ultra defensive set-up mirrored by Sky Blues as boos rain down in Croke Park

Paul Flynn
Paul Flynn

FIRST, the logic.

"When we were here a year ago, we were well opened up," recalled Derry manager, Brian McIver of his team's 15-point defeat to Dublin in last year's League final by way of explaining of his team's apparent reluctance to engage in the basic format of the sport of Gaelic football on Saturday night.

The outcome?

Against the same opposition at the same venue, they lost by four - 0-8 to 0-4.

For context, that's two less scores than the Dublin/Donegal All-Ireland semi-final of 2011, a match which gained instant infamy and was, so far as anyone could recall, the last time a team was booed on Jones' Road for employing such an ultra conservative modus operandi.

When they get around to conducting an autopsy on the game of Gaelic football as a spectacle sometime later this year, such methods will be the identified cause of death.

McIver felt the boos "harsh," though his reasoning was the source of a conflict of opinion.

"Because Dublin set up exactly the same as we did," he offered, "so I couldn't see why we were getting booed."

He added, later in his post match press obligations, that "both sides set up by and large…they nearly mirrored each other."

Jim Gavin, speaking before McIver and thus not in a position to comment directly on the Derry manager's description of his style, asserted: "I don't think we could leave here tonight saying we played defensively.

"I just think we had good structure. I think there's a big difference there."

The weirdest thing about Derry's play was their tendency to work the ball just past the half-way line, then cycle possession through three or four pairs of hands, all of whom would then double-back in what took on the appearance of a team trying to kill the clock, despite the fact that there was anywhere from an hour left to play.

PURCHASE

Occasionally, Enda Lynn would take the ball and a notion and weave into the sitting Dublin half-back line and more often than not, he found some purchase.

It looked as though Derry expected Dublin to press the ball, at which time they would, presumably, pop it into the space in front of one of the players inside the opposition '21.

When the rush never came, they were inclined to sit and wait. Almost literally.

"You can have a full court press, which we've used in the past to great effect, particularly last year against Derry," said Gavin, sort of confirming this theory, albeit obliviously.

"We tried something different tonight. The first thing to say is that teams are playing within the rules that we have," said the Dublin manager, for whom this sort of front will be met all year long.

"And obviously from a Dublin perspective, we can't control that," he outlined.

"We just go out and play our game. But I suppose it's not what supporters are used to seeing.

"A scoreline like that - even at half-time - is not what you would usually associate with Gaelic football.

"But it is what it is. And teams are playing within the rules."

Best way to unstitch the blanket?

Turn the opposition over.

At 0-5 to 0-4 with three minutes to go, Dublin were in no way dominating the match aside from the creation of a much larger number of scoring chances, the vast, vast majority of which were spurned.

Mark Lynch took a free from 50 metres to level it which dropped short and Dublin, through the always effective Jack McCaffrey, worked the ball as far as Paddy Andrews, who steered over from inside the Derry '45.

A minute later, substitute Brian Fenton intercepted a Derry move, fed Dean Rock, who moved it on to Diarmuid Connolly, who scored with his left.

And a minute into injury-time - ditto. Connolly repaid the favour to Rock after pressurising a Derry player into spilling possession.

Yet but for some fine one-on-one defending from Rory O'Carroll, Dublin might have been in a worse position at that stage.

RELEVANT

Final thought - and one loosely relevant to Dublin ahead of their trip to Monaghan next week.

What price a 0-0 to 0-0 draw in this year's Ulster SFC?

"Look, until the GAA authorities do something to change the rules or whatever unfortunately that's the way a lot of games are going," McIver shrugged, in a sort of 'don't hate the player, hate the game' sort of way.

"Believe me, it's not the way we want to play football…"

Nor is it the way anyone wants to watch it.

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