Saturday 18 November 2017

Kevin McStay: Dublin's belief in high tempo game seals the All Ireland deal

Dublin players, from left, Jonny Cooper, Stephen Cluxton and Davy Byrne, celebrate with the Sam Maguire cup after the game
Dublin players, from left, Jonny Cooper, Stephen Cluxton and Davy Byrne, celebrate with the Sam Maguire cup after the game
Paddy Andrews, Kevin McManamon, and Bernard Brogan celebrate after the game

Given that it was a curious affair at Croke Park yesterday, we may start with a statistical curiosity as we assess Dublin’s third All-Ireland title in five years.

The deserved 0-12 to 0-9 victory is actually the first time Dublin have won a championship match under Jim Gavin without finding the net.

If you had said to me beforehand that Dublin could beat Kerry without scoring a goal over the 70 minutes, I would have doubted that occurring, given the oxygen that goals have traditionally provided for the Dubs.

I would have also questioned Dublin’s chances had Cian O’Sullivan not been available to start. But thankfully from a Dublin perspective, the Kilmacud Crokes player was deemed fit to play and his influence on the match could not be underestimated.

O’Sullivan once again oozed class as the most versatile of players was happy to curb his more attacking instincts as he excelled in the sweeper role.

He has been central to Dublin’s new-found defensive certainty that has been addressed by Dublin after their frailties were exposed by Donegal last year and his ability to act as a lateral sweeper played a massive part in Dublin’s dominance of the final.

He may not appear to do anything especially flashy or eye-catching but the ability he has in organising his fellow defenders and being able to cover across the field has added a new and vital dimension to the Dublin set-up.

Naturally, Dublin should have won by more as they completely bossed the game from the outset against a Kerry team that looked strangely lethargic for an All-Ireland final.

Paddy Andrews, Kevin McManamon, and Bernard Brogan celebrate after the game

Paddy Andrews, Kevin McManamon, and Bernard Brogan celebrate after the game

Credit must rightly go to Jim Gavin and his back-room team who got most of the match-ups spot on and the timing of the substitutions were also on the money, although maybe Denis Bastick could have lasted a few more minutes given how well he had done throughout.

Having said that, Michael Darragh Macauley offered positive energy upon his introduction and the same could be said of the contributions by Michael Fitzsimons, Kevin McManamon and Alan Brogan, with the latter kicking a vital score in the closing stages. Before the game, it was felt by most observers that the rain which fell heavily in Dublin for the duration would prove to a blessing for Kerry. But it was Dublin, in truth, who looked far more comfortable in conditions that could only be described as shocking.

Naturally, there were lots of errors by both sides, but Dublin were far more assured in both their handling and kicking and the ease in which they worked their ball into the forward lime contrasted hugely with the more laboured efforts of their opponents.


I think Kerry erred in kicking too much at times, while Dublin were more confident in their control of the football and the chances that they created should have led to a greater margin of victory. 

Going back to the performance of the two management teams, Dublin can be very happy with the decisions made on the line while for Eamonn Fitzmaurice, it certainly wasn’t his finest hour. Deciding to keep Colm Cooper on while both Paul Geaney and James O’Donoghue were benched appeared unusual, and perhaps costly.

I would imagine Fitzmaurice was disappointed with the fact his supposed midfield superiority failed to materialise as Anthony Maher and David Moran were largely nullified with Brain Fenton showing extremely well in his first All-Ireland final.

Fenton has been a real find and I loved the confidence he had in going for goal when most players would have been happy to take their point.

I suppose that moment summed up the confidence that Dublin had in themselves while Kerry looked strangely subdued for a team that could boast so many All-Ireland winners among their ranks.

There were many heroes in a blue shirt with Jonny Cooper certainly in line for a Man of the Match accolade prior to his relatively early substitution.

Cooper embodied the tenacity of the Dublin defence with Philly McMahon totally nullifying the threat of Cooper while James McCarthy has improved game on game after an uncharacteristically quiet campaign up until the semi-final replay against Mayo. Ciarán Kilkenny is another player to deserve large acclaim after another excellent personal display and although the Castleknock player failed to score yesterday, he was a huge presence throughout the year and looks a shoe-in for a well-deserved All-Star. Not bad for a mediocre Junior club footballer!!

What was also very encouraging from a Dublin perspective, and also vital to their victory, was the pace at which they played the game.

You could only get the impression from watching the match that Dublin felt that Kerry would prefer a slower, more staccato affair and that Dublin would gain much greater reward if they played at a higher tempo than their opponents.

So it proved as they looked for the quick option at all times, trying to stretch the Kerry defence and use the full dimensions of Croke Park and that policy was never more evident than in the period before half-time when Dublin kicked four superb scores through Bernard Brogan, Jack McCaffrey, Paddy Andrews and Philly McMahon.

That period, more than any other, highlighted the difference between the teams on the day and why, more than any other reason, Dublin were crowned deserving winners.

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