Tuesday 22 January 2019

Dubs were so close to killing off game

Sitting in a local hostelry in Limerick last Saturday lunchtime, as the atmosphere built up outside, talk turned to how Mayo or Kerry might handle the Dubs in the All Ireland final. Nobody seemed to notice such analysis was a little previous, seeing as Dublin had yet to play Donegal.

And when a Kerry man, resident in Clondalkin, told us Dublin fans were looking forward to the three-in-a-row of All Ireland titles next year, you had to think, if only for a few seconds, that the odds-on favourites might be in just a little trouble if such hype leaked into the sqaud.

History has a habit of repeating itself and older readers will remember the fatal error of a previous Dublin management that allowed their panel go to Croker and watch the 1992 semi-final between Mayo and Donegal live as part of their preparations to win Sam.

That semi-final was so bad, some of the Dublin players nearly fell out of the old stadium laughing and immediately the hype started in the capital and culminated in a background message to the players that read: ye only have to show up.

subtle enemy

Last Sunday replicated that scenario it would appear and while over-confidence is an easy accusation and probably would not stick under any in-house reflection, complacency is a more subtle enemy and can be a cancerous message in a dressing-room.

Last week's column concluded a battle was imminent and that if Donegal kept the majors at zero it was game on: " Donegal's key goal will be to keep Dublin from scoring a goal! I have argued before that Dublin take such energy from a goal that it liberates them".

Donegal rode their luck on that front but got away with it. If the Bernard Brogan (dreadful pass by Eoghan O'Gara) or Diarmuid Connolly (brilliant save by Paul Durcan) goal chances went in it was curtains for the outsiders.

Don't listen to the Donegal nonsense about game plans and sticking to them and always knowing you are in control.

Donegal were on the ropes in the opening 20 minutes and if their nets bulged the game was busted.

But to their eternal credit, they had analysed carefully and located Dublin's Achilles heel. The very line that drove them on would be the line that drove them over the cliff.

fatal blows

That space in behind the midfield and the absent Dublin half back line was a no-man's land the northerners streamed into in order to execute the fatal blows. The pressure built up as a result of the goals.

And if pressure is hard to deal with, then unexpected pressure is a killer all together.

When you are chasing a game down that you planned to be in control of, every dynamic changes.

I recall playing in Croke Park against Dublin in the 80s and we were cruising along nicely.

Frees into the Hill were an easy task for me: confidence up the goal posts looked the width of the end line; but when Dublin struck with goals and we trailed by a few, those same frees were into a goal that looked the width of the front door as you approached the ball. Pressure indeed.

And so we end up with the final few, if any, predicted. Kerry and Donegal supporters hardly contemplated life beyond the QFs way back in May.

Such is this strange and wonderful game of Gaelic football.

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