Monday 20 November 2017

Defence the best form of Dublin attack

Gavin hails his team's defensive structure on a day when they held a Kerry attack to just nine points

Dublin manager Jim Gavin celebrates with captain Stephen Cluxton after winning the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship final at Croke Park
Dublin manager Jim Gavin celebrates with captain Stephen Cluxton after winning the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship final at Croke Park
Kerry’s Kieran Donaghy passes the ball to his team-mate Killian Young (left) during the closing stages of yesterday’s All-Ireland final

You exactly wouldn't say the football world had spun on its axis but not too long ago, you wouldn't have attributed the following quote to Jim Gavin in a post All-Ireland final interview.

"It was our structure in our defence that won it for us in the end," the Dublin concluded afterwards.

The same Dublin manager that put together the fastest, most thrilling team the county had produced and taught them to play always on the front foot was espousing the virtues and very obvious benefits of a structured approach to defending.

You couldn't argue with him.

It rains in Kerry just as much as it rains in Dublin so the conditions, slippery and fumbley though they were could only be offered in slight mitigation.

Fact is, Dublin constricted Kerry to just nine points in Croke Park yesterday.

And just as admirable as their hustle when Kerry had possession was Gavin's willingness to bite the pragmatic bullet after last year's All-Ireland semi-final loss to Donegal.

"We were very compact and very composed on the ball against massive threats all around, they came close to poaching one or two goals towards the end," he said.

Gavin might have even been doing his team something of an injustice here.

Save for the spilled ball by Killian Young after a hopped ball on the Dublin '21, Kerry's only kind of threat on the Dublin goal were those repeated and repelled long balls into Kieran Donaghy.

"We knew we had to maintain our structure throughout the game," Gavin continued.

"And I felt we did that and that's why we got over the line in the end."

There were plenty of other factors, too.


In Kerry, they talk about the need to 'hammer the hammer' in big names, to isolate an opposition's area of strength and go bull-headed after it.

On the accepted rationale that Colm Cooper is one of Kerry's strongest points, you couldn't but conclude that Dublin did indeed, hammer the hammer with Philly McMahon.

"Colm Cooper is a fantastic talent and it's great to see him play," Gavin reasoned.

"Philly and a very good game and he's been playing well all seasons, really stood up for us this season and he's been a big leader for the team both on and off the field.

"He demonstrates most of his work by what he does on the training field and in games but he's just one part of a good defence this year.

"Yeah we would always encourage Philly, he is technically a skilful player and he's demonstrated that with his score count this year.

"We would always encourage that if there is space and an opportunity, that's the ethos we have.

"If they see a gap to go for it and hopefully someone will cover off for them."

"I'd say our shot-to-score ratio might have been a little bit ahead of theirs," Gavin continued in the process of identifying the causes of Dublin's victory. And opportunities that came our way we seemed to take.


"We created a few chances that we didn't take but we'd always encourage our boys to go for it and great to see the likes of Brian Fenton back himself deep in the second half.

"He was very unlucky but that's what we'd always encourage." For his part, Éamonn Fitzmaurice didn't make excuses.

Simply, he had none.

Moreover, he reckoned the three point difference at the final whistle was possibly flattering to his team.

"I think it was. I think we did to hang in there. I think you have to give a lot of credit to the players for their second-half performance.

"We weren't playing well, we weren't firing on all cylinders today, but the lads, they battled hard in the second-half. I think in fairness to Kieran Donaghy, he came in on a wet day and he gave us a good point to our attack.

"Darran O'Sullivan did well as well, he gave us a bit of life and energy up there.

"We kept pegging away, but to be fair to Dublin, every time we got close to them they seemed to be able to go down and get a point or two to keep it at two and three-points the whole time.

"We needed a goal. It is as simple as that," the Kerry manager admitted.

"We needed a goal the way we were playing and we didn't get it."

Magnanimously, his post match thoughts were circular.

For every Kerry malfunction on the day, you could identify a Dublin success.

Kerry put Stephen Cluxton under pressure in the second-half but their midfield didn't enjoy anywhere near the levels of comfort most assumed.

"You have to give a lot of credit to Dublin. Dublin played very well," Fitzmaurice added.

"They had the best of both worlds. They worked so hard up front.

"Their forwards worked so hard that when we were in possession they were slowing us down coming out and at the same time getting bodies back, which was a very effective game-plan today.

"We, in possession, weren't as accurate or as clinical as we can be.

"We did okay, in fairness, without the ball, but in possession we would have been disappointed, definitely."

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