Tuesday 22 January 2019

Dubs defence grinding

Gavin's men now content to be patient against blanket defence after learning lessons of their Donegal demise

HERE'S a stat that hasn't been getting much air time this week whilst football is poked and prodded for signs of continued and future existence.

Of all the teams in Division 1 and 2 of the Allianz League, Dublin have conceded the lowest.

Their 1-67 checks out at 11.67 points scored against them per game.

Last year, after the group part of the competition concluded it was 8-91 or an average per match of 16.42 points.

Partly, that's because teams have attempted to beat Dublin in an attacking black out; Derry being the most obvious and recent example, but Cork, Tyrone and at times even Kerry, all availed of variations of the theme.

And partly it's because hereto, the two very obvious changes in the Dublin defensive alignment is the ever-presence of which ever player wears number six in the traditional number six position and oftentimes, the abandonment of what Jim Gavin described last week as "the full court press".

On other occasions - most notably in Castlebar - Dublin's midfield duo - then Denis Bastick and Tomás Brady - hugged their half-back line (though they still managed to score 1-3 collectively) but the press, or more pertinently the lack of it, was the most obvious deviation from the 2014 plan last week as Croke Park booed the fare.

"Observing the game, you felt that Dublin had two choices," says former Dubs boss, Paul Caffrey.

"They either mimic what Derry are doing and hold their men back in their positions and try and let the forwards work it out or rely on the Diarmuid Connollys and Paul Flynns to land the long-range points.

"Watching the game at half-time, I would have said that Dublin would go full court press and steamroll Derry. But Jim obviously decided 'no, look, we're heeding the lessons of Donegal last year. We're holding our shape and I don't really mind if this goes down to the last few minutes.'

"So it was clear that this was a very obviously decision from Dublin not to go full court press.

"I think Jim spoke about his side being patient and sticking to the game-plan.

"That didn't add to the spectacle.


"I think we were all waiting for Dublin to push up and open a gap. And with it being four-all after 59 minutes, it just made for a horrible, horrible spectacle."

Hoping for anything different in Monaghan tomorrow would be foolish in the extreme. Both teams need to win to be certain of their spots in the League semi-finals and Monaghan, particularly at home, can be the toughest grinding team out there.

And they'll play the waiting game outlined above all afternoon long.

It was only four weeks ago that their meeting with Donegal in Letterkenny, a 0-9 to 1-4 cracker, featured just one score from Rory Gallagher's men in the entire second half.

One local Donegal journalist began his report thusly: "This was the worst game of football ever played".

"Monaghan are going to set up the exact same way. Does it suit Dublin? Yeah. Because this is as close to a Championship game as you'll get in a National League," Caffrey insists.

"This, to all intents and purposes, is a National League quarter-final. It's a knock-out game.

"Jim will set it up with that in mind. And bearing in mind how poor they were at breaking down Derry.

"I'm sure there would have been a lot of talk this week about better shot-option and more recycling, more patience being shown.

"Maybe trying to go at them a bit harder and trying to draw some frees or whatever. So it would have been a challenging week for the group.


"They would have been very disappointed after Derry. There would have been no elation there. Nobody enjoyed what happened in Croke Park last Saturday night.

"They know exactly what they're going to face. At team at home, fighting to get into a semi-final," Caffrey concludes. "It sets it up lovely."

Lovely. But probably not too pretty.


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