plunkett's in rude health
dublin sfc semi-final
CALL it what you want; attritional, aesthetically grim. Whatever.
Fact is, Oliver Plunkett's/ER gave one of the most tactically astute performances seen in the recently compelling editions of the Dublin SFC on Saturday afternoon in accounting for and frustrating St Jude's well beyond the point of distraction.
Plunkett's scored 1-11 and Jude's, just 0-4.
But the devil was most definitely in the detail.
It was a pristine execution of a meticulously rehearsed game-plan, one which could well land them the big one in the Dublin final next Monday night in Parnell Park (7.45).
Because for a club like Plunkett's, yet to win a county Championship but possessing two of the past four Footballers of the Year, the end always justifies the means when the stakes are as elevated as they are now.
And for a team, like this Plunkett's side, who have lost two county finals in recent memory, largely playing the beautiful game, the theory that doing something is inherently better than doing nothing seems absolutely logical.
And if Kerry can do it....
Here's one: After Plunkett's were beaten by St Brigid's in the 2011 county final, then manager Mick Galvin bemoaned the cataclysmic timing with which Bernard Brogan's only off day of the entire football year arrived. "If it doesn't happen for Bernard Brogan and he doesn't score, what do you do?" he pondered after Brogan had scored just a point from play that night against a Brigid's defence employing the same principles of constriction utilised by Plunkett's last Saturday.
Yet you got the feeling on Saturday that, as Jude's drove themselves incessantly at the densely populated Plunkett's defence, the Navan Road team would probably have won anyway had Bernard, or indeed Alan, Brogan not been on the pitch.
The duo weren't exactly passengers, as their classy link for Bernard's 60th minute goal proved. Yet neither were they navigators.
If the system can cope with those two occasionally existing on the periphery, then it clearly works.
If they see more ball in the final and the defence maintains their awesome form, it could take St Vincent's All-Ireland winning form to stop them.
It wasn't just that Plunkett's got so many men in front of the Jude's ball-carrier.
It was also the sense of purpose with which each of the defenders carried out their task.
Any team can sit deep. Few can do so as effective and organised as Plunkett's clearly executed it on this occasion.
James Brogan led that line superbly. Up front, Gareth 'Nesty' Smith had a screamer of a game.
And both Niall and Conor Walsh's stock grew yet again.
Meanwhile, Jude's defensive plan largely involved Paul Cunningham's robust marking of Bernard Brogan, replete with Rob Finnegan as a 'screen.'
But each time Brogan dragged both into one corner, Plunkett's just popped the ball into 'Nesty'.
And he obliged in winning most of them, scoring two points from play, a free and a '45'.
Still, the most revealing stat is St Jude's end tally; Four points.
Remember, a St Brigid's team managed by Tony McEntee, of Crossmaglen fame and by national consensus, one of the sharpest coaching brains around, allowed Kevin McManamon score 3-5 in their quarter and watched largely helpless as Jude's built up a 10-point lead in the first half of that match.
The same man was held scoreless on Saturday by Plunkett's.
Moreover, McManamon barely threatened to score, outside of a couple of botched frees which, to be accurate, wouldn't have made much of a difference anyway.
After an excellent season for club and county, McManamon will be forgiven, in light of his Championship exits for both, for cursing the advancement of this type of tactical innovation.
Jude's, with the wind, trailed by 0-5 to 0-3 at half-time.
Plunkett's job was thus more than half-done, but their discipline was exceptional in the second half too, sucking Jude's in, picking them off with points from the likes of Smith and Niall Walsh and then breaking, classically, for that typically Brogan goal.
Alan collected a pass from Ross McConnell and with Jude's well advanced, picked out Bernard with a sumptuous, first time ball.
Therein, Brogan-the-younger collected, turned and lost Cunningham with one movement, then sucked in John Brian Carthy before astutely choosing his left foot as the one with which he would dispatch the goal underneath the Jude's goalkeeper.
Plunkett's had already taken out Kilmacud Crokes and Ballymun Kickhams yet there was a sense that Saturday was the most impressive exhibition of their mettle yet.
The biggest is yet to come though.
Diarmuid Connolly, Mossy Quinn et al await.
SCORERS - ST OLIVER PLUNKETT'S/ER: B Brogan 1-2 (0-1f), G Smith 0-4 (1f, 1'45), N Walsh 0-2, J Brogan, C Dunleavy, C Walsh 0-1 each. ST JUDE'S: R Finnegan, R Joyce, J Donnelly 0-1 each.
ST OLIVER PLUNKETT'S/ER: A O'Mara; E Clarke, S Lyons, D Kelly; D Lally, J Brogan, R O'Connor; P McNulty, C Dunleavy; C Walsh, N Walsh, D Brogan; G Smith, B Brogan, A Brogan. Subs: P Brogan for D Brogan (ht), R McConnell for McNulty (37), P Lee for N Walsh (53), S O'Connor for P Brogan (59), D Matthews for Dunleavy (61).
ST JUDE'S: JB Carthy; R Finnegan, P Cunningham, O Manning; M Sweeney, T McKeown, C Guckian; C Murphy, K Doherty; R Joyce, B McManamon, J Donnelly; D Donnelly, K McManamon, P Maguire. Subs: N Cronin for Guckian (ht, injured), R Lahiff for J Donnelly (40 inj), S Ryan for McKeown (45), E Dalton for Maguire (51), P Courtney for Doherty (55).
WIDES - Plunkett's: 8 (1 + 7). St Jude's: 11 (9 + 2).
BOOKED - Plunkett's: 3 (A Brogan 13, McConnell 44, Smith 52). Jude's: 1 (Sweeney 58).
REF: M Bissett (Whitehall Colmcille).
ATTENDANCE: 5,000 (Est).