Sunday 23 October 2016

Teamwork and pace can see Dubs home against Kingdom

Stephen Cluxton lifts Sam Maguire after victory over Kerry in last year’s All-Ireland final. Photo: Sportsfile
Stephen Cluxton lifts Sam Maguire after victory over Kerry in last year’s All-Ireland final. Photo: Sportsfile

In the build-up to their All-Ireland quarter-final with Donegal the question posed of Dublin was would they have the hunger and drive to match the battle hardened Ulster championship runners-up?

The answer came in the affirmative, but the concession of a well-worked goal that provided oxygen to Donegal's ailing challenge was a sharp reminder of the dangers of leaking goals when the margin for error becomes ever tighter.

In advance of their last-four showdown with the Dubs, a similar question could be asked of Kerry, who hit this semi-final without having undergone any real significant test of their capabilities since that demoralising league final defeat to Jim Gavin's troops in late April.

Despite knocking up a healthy average (2-18) over their three championship games, the painful reality is that in their last two meetings with Dublin, the League final and last year's All-Ireland, the Kingdom attack have struggled to penetrate Dublin's rearguard where they have averaged only 11 points across the two games.

Rude Awakening

The rude awakening for Dublin came in that 2014 All-Ireland semi-final, when Donegal stitched them for three goals.

Since then they have been frugal in defence, demonstrating a consistency across their four championship games this year where on average they have conceded only 11 scores, and will be further boosted by the likely return of James McCarthy to their half-back line.

It is this suffocating of their opponents' offensive game-plan that has created the platform for Dublin to further enhance their own style of play, and from a Kerry perspective the taming of Colm Cooper, who despite the arrival of James O'Donoghue remains the fulcrum of this team, must cause the biggest angst down South.

His first-half performance in the league final, where he kicked a score and created several more, demonstrates just how vital he is to the team. But if Kerry hope to stem the Blue wave, they need to keep Cooper in the game for the full seventy minutes.

The key to this is the middle third, an area that Dublin were pressurised in against Donegal when they squeezed up on Stephen Cluxton's kick-outs.

Initially, the Donegal tactic appeared to be a full court press only after they scored, but during the course of the second half they generated real success when they put sustained pressure on the restart, a tactic I fully expect Kerry to employ.

Kieran Donaghy has in recent games started in midfield, but given the requirement for legs around this sector, I expect he will be positioned on the edge of the square, a move that has the potential to offer a two-fold effect for Kerry boss Eamon Fitzmaurice.

Firstly, it will create the capacity for Kerry to put pressure on Dublin's full-back line. Kieran Donaghy has come out second best in his recent tussles with Rory O'Carroll, so given the absence of Donaghy's nemesis he might fancy making an impact on the small parallelogram if he can be supported by the likes of Paul Geaney and O'Donoghue, who need to operate off his shoulder.

Secondly, it will give Fitmaurice the option of starting David Moran and Anthony Maher who, ably supported by Donnchadh Walsh, will hope to hit Dublin in an area of the park where they have struggled to create a really cohesive partnership over the course of the Summer.

The priority for Kerry is to secure primary possession and force Dublin to defend one on one. In their last-four encounter in 2013, three first-half goals had Dublin rocking, so quick early ball, the type that renders a sweeper null and void, is a must for Kerry. .

For all the positives that exist in surveying opportunities from an attacking perspective for Kerry, their problem area - and ultimately the area that Dublin will look to capitalise on - is their defensive unit.

Despite not meeting a team from the top two divisions en route to Sunday's showdown, Kerry have still struggled to curtail the attacking threats of Clare (twice) and Tipperary.

However, in comparison to the swagger associated with Dublin's attacking division, Kerry's difficulties in replacing the ageing legs of the likes of Aidan O'Mahoney and Marc O Sé has left them vulnerable to the pace and athleticism that runs through Dublin's front six.

Kerry may look to thwart this somewhat by detailing Paul Murphy with a man-marking role on the influential Ciaran Kilkenny, but I don't believe they have sufficient defensive options to tie up the supporting crew both in terms of starting forwards or the options from the bench who between them have demonstrated their ability to deal with and adapt to whatever defensive set-up greets them.

Playing to your strengths is common sense. And it is this team-wide understanding of what it takes to win games that should give Dublin the edge and book them a place in a second consecutive All-Ireland final.

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