Tuesday 25 October 2016

Dubs with plenty to work on

Laois's second-half goals in Kilkenny expose vulnerabilities at the back for champs despite comprehensive last-eight victory

Dean Rock celebrates his goal, which he scored in the first 15 seconds, with team-mate Bernard Brogan. Photo: Sportsfile
Dean Rock celebrates his goal, which he scored in the first 15 seconds, with team-mate Bernard Brogan. Photo: Sportsfile

Making life momentarily a tad awkward for Dublin may not necessarily qualify a manager to preach about their flaws, but Mick Lillis only said what plenty were noting as they crawled up the M9 from Nowlan Park on Saturday night.

"They're a quality side but they won't get it their own way," the Laois manager considered after his team had gone down by 11 points to the All-Ireland champions.

A noble margin given their abominable start to the match and the fact that they played the hard-running, athletically awesome Dubs with fewer players for more than half the match.

"There are other teams out there capable of playing like that," he went on. "It's not the foregone conclusion that a lot of people think it is."

Lillis elaborated, though he was merely expressing what some have suspected since January, a hunch backed up by that spell of the second half on Saturday evening when the draw bridge in front of the Dublin goal was left untended for Laois to pillage two goals.

"Look it, regardless of what people say, you cannot take out the likes of Rory O'Carroll and not miss him," he said, not unreasonably, or without new and illuminating evidence.

"That's no disrespect to the lads who are there, they are all fabulous players. But Rory O'Carroll is a class full-back and he has been for a long time.

"So they will miss him down the line, and may miss Jack McCaffrey as well."

On the one hand, it would seem bullish for a manager whose team had just been sunk by 11 points to be picking holes in the oppposition's game.

But so shrill has the national hysteria been over Dublin's pre-eminence in light of their fourth League title, it was only pertinent to point out the vulnerabilities plenty had suggested they didn't have.

Jim Gavin admitted afterwards that elements of his team's display after half-time would not go down well in the Dublin dressing-room.

"The players themselves will not be happy with that second-half performance," he stressed. "It certainly gives us a lot to reflect upon. We understand that would just not be good enough in our next game."

The chances are, though, it might.

The Leinster Championship didn't serve Dublin particularly well last year and at this remove, it's hard to see them getting as ruffled as they were in that little patch of the second half on Saturday night again before August.


They won the three matches of their Delaney Cup success by an average of just under 20 points in 2015.

By the time they met a mischievous Fermanagh team with nothing to lose in the All-Ireland quarter-final, Dublin looked discommoded by being put on the back foot.

And the subsequent All-Ireland semi-final draw with Mayo did not represent their finest group work.

So maybe, for Gavin, it was just as well Laois exposed some defects.

Among Gavin's many qualities as a manager is the clear ability to learn from and correct flaws.

"We'll always be creative and expressive with our play," Gavin said, in mitigation.

"Laois are a good side. They have very potent forwards and good attacking half-backs. I think both goals were clinically taken."

Still, this Dublin team aren't supposed to leak scores like that any more - goals conceded as a direct result of players being caught out of position.

Jonny Cooper and Philly McMahon were both subbed, the latter unusually early for the second big match in a row.

Despite how illuminating those four minutes in the second half were, so too was Dublin's response thereafter.

Laois, unperturbed by the already bolted horse, retreated into a formation designed to constrict and frustrate.

Where once Dublin's inclination was to go the direct route to goal or not at all, here they simply bided their time, safe in the knowledge that Laois couldn't win the match from a losing position if they didn't have the ball.

Diarmuid Connolly, whose collective League performances fell shy of his own immense artistic standards, was key here.

He kicked 1-4, included in which were a brace of gems to kill the little buzz Laois had created for themselves.

He also missed 1-4, including a well-saved penalty, but Connolly's calm and class were painted all over the good parts of this Dublin performance.

You could argue too, that Dean Rock had his finest day in a Dublin jersey, kicking 1-10 (6f) while James McCarthy continues to cajole and control from his perch along Dublin's half-back line.

There were others who didn't quite shine.

McMahon's 'other' role as marauding play-maker seemed to hinder his ability to perform his primary duties.

And with Con O'Callaghan showing well off the bench in winning a penalty, scoring a point and collecting one brilliant ball, Paul Mannion and possibly even the oddly peripheral Bernard Brogan must ensure the next three weeks of training are productive ones personally.


"It's good to get off the mark," said Gavin by way of recap.

And if he was either miffed by the goal concession or delighted with the response, he did a good job of hiding it when he spoke afterwards.

"We prepared as best we could for the challenge that Laois gave us. We got 2-15 from play today so there are plenty of positives to take away from it and obviously the win as well."

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