Sunday 17 December 2017

Coman Goggins: Dublin to hold their nerve in a cagey battle

Ciaran Kilkenny, Dublin, in action against Andy Moran, Mayo. GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Semi-Final Replay
Ciaran Kilkenny, Dublin, in action against Andy Moran, Mayo. GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Semi-Final Replay

WHEN you consider over the course of 11 championship games that between them, Dublin and Kerry, have hit a combined total of 30 goals and 180 points, it would be safe to assume that the old abacus will be needed to keep a check on the scoreline when the two meet in Sunday's All-Ireland football final.

Averaging three goals a game the Dubs are clinical when opportunities present, while Kerry, who despite failing to register a green flag against Tyrone, demonstrated with the seven they racked up against Kildare in their quarter-final, that they have forwards who will punish any team that affords them time and space in their attack.

But while these stats justify why the majority of the focus will be on the offensive capabilities of both teams, my gut feeling is that the game could play out far cagier than when the sides last met at the penultimate round of the championship in 2013, when the Dubs triumphed 3-18 to 3-11 in what can only be described as a shootout.

The basis for this feeling lies in the fact that both teams are probably carrying baggage from their most recent semi-final loses, Kerry in 2013 and the Dubs to Donegal last year, and is the reason why they will shy away from trying out-score each other and look instead to focus on their defensive match-ups in an effort to curtail each others attacking influences.


It's in this sector that I believe Jim Gavin's men can exert the greater influence if the individual superiority, I believe the Dubs possess amongst their back six, can be supported by the collective team effort to pressurise Kerry's supply line into the likes of James O'Donoghue, Colm Cooper and Paul Geaney.

While this poses a question for Gavin in respect of starting what he believes is his best centrefield partnership, what the two games with Mayo have shown is that rather than being short on options in this sector, Dublin now have three guys vying for a starting berth and who are well capable of competing with David Moran and Anthony Maher.

Testament to the season he has had is the fact that Raheny's Brian Fenton is the definite starter, although regardless of who joins him in the middle, it is evident that both Denis Bastick and Michael Darragh Macauley have fully bought in to contributing from the bench if that's the role that is asked of them.

In contrast to Mayo, Kerry have an adaptability in their forwards where the long ball to Kieran Donaghy can suddenly be abandoned and replaced with forward play that in some ways mirrors the "tiki taka" style of Barcelona, where short snappy foot passes can unhinge the most disciplined defensive line.

The key to preventing Eamonn Fitzmaurice's charges from cutting loose with this style of play has to come from Dublin's middle third, where by denying Kerry time on the ball, they can tilt the balance in favour of their man-marking defenders who to my mind hold a narrow edge over their Kerry counterparts.

Admittedly Mayo certainly don't have the potency upfront that Kerry offer, but Philly McMahon's battle with Aidan O'Shea proves he can match his attacking prowess with his defensive duties, while Jonny Cooper, Rory O'Carroll and Michael Fitzsimmons, who will be pushing hard for start on the basis of his substitute performances against Mayo, have both the pace and power to curtail Kerry's attacking know-how.

The glue amongst all this is Cian O'Sullivan whose hamstring injury, picked up with almost the last kick of the ball against Mayo, will have undergone rigorous treatment in the hope of having it right for 3.30pm on Sunday.

The Kilmacud Crokes man brings huge value to the team, and particularly with the absence of Ger Brennan, his reading of the game is a critical element to Dublin's defensive set-up.

In some respects I believe Dublin over-analysed the risk associated with Mayo's attack in the build-up to the drawn semi-final, but when they reassessed that threat, they backed their defenders and reverted to their more characteristic game of attacking at pace and using long diagonal ball to get at the Connacht champions.

With 6-19 to his name, all from play, Bernard Brogan is unquestionably the 'go-to man', but when both Paddy Andrews and Ciarán Kilkenny, whose consistency this year is reflected in the fact that he is averaging 0-3 from play per game, ran at Mayo they created all sorts of problems that the westerners simply couldn't deal with.

By remaining loyal to these key fundamentals of Gavin's footballing philosophy is where Dublin need to build from, and is the method by which they can pose big questions of Kerry's defensive unit.

Against the hard tackling and counter-attacking running of Tyrone, the reigning All-Ireland champions coughed up four or five clear-cut goal scoring chances, and while Tyrone failed to net one, I can't see Dublin being as wasteful if similar opportunities arise.

In a clash that is often billed as the dream final, or a meeting that the tradionalists deem best reflects the ethos of the game, the hype machine will be in overdrive in the build up to Sunday's encounter.

However, in a game of fine margins I believe the team that best restricts their opponents without overly sacrificing their offensive ability should come to the fore, and for me Dublin look best primed to pull this off and defeat the Kingdom for a historic first time in three consecutive SFC encounters.



Both teams are probably

carrying baggage from their

most recent semi-final loses.

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