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Friday 9 December 2016

Roche's Point: Has Dublin attack lost its HQ edge?

5 April 2015; Bernard Brogan, Dublin, in action against Ryan Wylie, Monaghan, Allianz Football League, Division 1, Round 7, Monaghan v Dublin. St Tiernach's Park, Clones
5 April 2015; Bernard Brogan, Dublin, in action against Ryan Wylie, Monaghan, Allianz Football League, Division 1, Round 7, Monaghan v Dublin. St Tiernach's Park, Clones

IS it churlish to criticise a team that now stands on the cusp of achieving what no Dublin team has done before?

Perhaps. And yet theirs has been a strange and not entirely convincing progression to this year’s Allianz Football League final.

Fact: Dublin have never won three NFL titles on the spin. To do so now would constitute a notable landmark for this generation.

Here’s another fact (of life): Dublin’s season won’t be defined by events against Cork in Croke Park on April 26, but rather by what happens at HQ in August and September. 

For a measure of what league three-in-a-rows mean to the wider populace, ask yourself this: what springs to mind when you mention the 2012 football season?  Answer: Jimmy’s winning matches. 

Mayo going so close (again), Dublin struggling for consistency in defence of Sam – they were important sub-plots. But the overriding memory is of Donegal’s system squeezing the life out of most rivals, including Kerry and Cork in the All-Ireland series.

HAMMERING

Oh yes, Cork: didn’t they complete a league hat-trick earlier that spring? A consoling thought of scant value for those Rebels who endured a two-point Donegal ‘hammering’ at the semi-final stage.

Colm O’Neill poached an injury-time goal that day; he bagged a brace against Donegal in Sunday’s first semi-final, bringing his spring haul to five goals.

The Cork ace will require extra-vigilant attention from the Dublin full-back line on Sunday week. And in the absence of Rory O’Carroll, that same full-back line didn’t exactly fill you with confidence against Monaghan as Conor McManus – often operating as a sole raider – plundered five points from play.

But this brings us back to the ‘strangeness’ of Dublin’s spring march. Sunday was one of their ropier defensive displays – yet it yielded a sixth clean sheet. 

COUGHED

They have coughed up just two goals in eight games. No rival rearguard across all four divisions can match that; only Offaly (7-58) and Fermanagh (4-71) conceded fewer than Dublin’s 2-78 over the seven regulation rounds.

That’s a valid statistical measure of the team’s more cautious defensive orientation this year – but is it coming at a cost? 

This year, the team has scored seven goals and 110 points on their eight-match run to the final (for an average of 16.4 points per game). When winning last year’s league, they scored 14-138 (for a 20-point average).

Ergo, the scoring rate has dipped but compensating for this has been a more frugal defence (conceding 12.5 points per game, instead of last spring’s 16.7).

Yet here, in summation, is the confusing and slightly worrying part: while Dublin have tallied 4-66 from their four league road trips, they have scored just 3-44 in four matches at Croke Park – that familiar prairie that is meant to be manna from heaven for their multi-talented attack.

Is it all down to opponents going ultra-blanket defensive for fear of what might happen? Or has some of Dublin’s attacking edge been blunted? 

Maybe that three-in-a-row tilt will throw some light on this conundrum.

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