Wednesday 13 December 2017

Coman Goggins: What a difference a year makes for Dubs

Alan Brogan and his son Jamie celebrate after Dublin defeated Kerry in the All Ireland Football Final at Croke Park.
Alan Brogan and his son Jamie celebrate after Dublin defeated Kerry in the All Ireland Football Final at Croke Park.
A tearful Alan Brogan of Dublin leaves the pitch with his son Jamie after defeat by Donegal

You could hardly say that Dublin captain Stephen Cluxton let the cat of the bag when he said in his All-Ireland acceptance speech that within two weeks of their defeat to Donegal last year, Jim Gavin and his players had began the process of building towards Summer 2015.

However, what his words did reveal is just how diligent this group are when it comes to fine tuning a quiet remarkable machine that has delivered a third All-Ireland title to the capital in the space of five years.

Aware that flooding men up the field had left them open to a ruthlessly efficient counter attack in 2014, Gavin and his backroom team identified that changes would need to be made if they hoped to get back to the promised land in 2015.

The American human rights activist Malcom X once said: "There is no better than adversity. Every defeat, every heartbreak, every loss, contains its own seed, its own lesson on how to improve your performance the next time".

That heartbreaking image of a teary Alan Brogan with his son Jamie in his arms in the aftermath of the Donegal game probably best captured the pain of the Dublin dressing room, and while the hurt no doubt galvanised the group, it was the management team's acceptance that the successful 2013 model needed a significant overhaul if Dublin were to return to the top table.

A tearful Alan Brogan of Dublin leaves the pitch with his son Jamie after defeat by Donegal

A tearful Alan Brogan of Dublin leaves the pitch with his son Jamie after defeat by Donegal last year

While adaptability is key, change for the sake of change is a futile exercise unless it carries a specific purpose. Kerry demonstrated this change requirement in the manner in which they set up for last year's All-Ireland football final, where they kept extra bodies in their defensive set-up, not simply to block up space, but with a clear purpose of picking up Donegal's counter-attacking runners, who had so clinically put Dublin to the sword.

In 2012, Jim McGuinness dropped Michael Murphy on the edge of the square from the get go against Mayo, with the sole purpose of trying to bag early goals. Within two minutes the big Glenswilly man had rattled the back of the net, and eight minutes later Com McFadden hit a second as Donegal never looked back.

Deviating somewhat from his open footballing philosophy of 2013, the placement of Cian O'Sullivan as a sweeper across his backline this year represented a significant change for Gavin, but a change that came with a dual purpose.

Firstly, it demonstrated to the group that lesson had been learned from the Donegal game, and that far from repeating the mistakes of 12 months earlier, Gavin and his management team were prepared to acknowledge and address the problem area.

Secondly, and perhaps more critically, it afforded Dublin's five other defenders the opportunity to attack the ball coming in, as they did against Kerry, comfortable in the knowledge that even if they failed to get that first touch, or were spun, there was an extra man to meet any forward bearing down on goal.

This system isn't something that can be rolled out in an All-Ireland final, and it does require a certain type of player to operate the role effectively, but given just how successful it was over the course of the summer, it is clear that its development on the training ground built a massive amount of confidence within Dublin's defensive unit.

It wasn't only the lessons of last year that contributed to Dublin's success. They also learned from their 2015 campaign, specifically the drawn All-Ireland semi-final with Mayo, were key to Dublin identifying that moving the ball at pace into their full-forward line had the potential to generate scores by creating one on one situations.

I guess where I am trying to get to with this is the fact that despite the current infatuation with the strength and depth of the Dublin squad, as was proven a little over a year ago, standing still simply won't be an option for Jim Gavin and his team as they bid to defend their title in 2016.


While the hurt may not be there to bring the team back together in two weeks time, I wouldn't be surprised to see Gavin amongst the crowd at the upcoming club championship games scouting for fresh talent and with an eye half cocked towards next Summer.

For now he is probably just happy that Sam Maguire is back resting in the capital, and while the teary eyed Brogan snap has been replaced with the updated version of him and his son beaming with joy, what Dublin's success has proven once again is that an ability to change is key a requirement for teams chasing success at any level.


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