Saturday 16 December 2017

Sky Blues lose their buccaneering spirit in a blanket of bodies

Dublin’s Dean Rock is blocked down by Carlow’s Séan Murphy at O’Moore Park, Portlaoise. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Dublin’s Dean Rock is blocked down by Carlow’s Séan Murphy at O’Moore Park, Portlaoise. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile

A team wins its championship opener by 12 points, to be greeted - if not quite by howls of derision - then by a totally nonplussed public.

You want to be underwhelmed? Then it's high time you started supporting the Dubs.

Maybe it's a measure of their previous stellar form graph, of all they have achieved under Jim Gavin, but most pundits weren't impressed by what they saw on Saturday evening. In fairness, they have a point.

For all the bravery and effort and tactical discipline of Turlough O'Brien's double-decker bus, Carlow were never going to win this Leinster SFC quarter-final.

Deep down, they knew it.

But they achieved a different type of victory by frustrating a Dublin attack whose reputation for multi-pronged prolific brilliance has taken a few hits over the past 12 months, even while retaining Sam Maguire.


No one relishes facing a wall of 14 defenders, but Dublin forwards are no different than many others in their recent struggles to penetrate the blanket. It requires patience and probing, and they only really opened up the opposition after Brendan Murphy's dismissal freed up space and softened Carlow's tungsten resistance.

But if a Division 4 outfit can hold Dublin's starting attack to just two points from play, what solace does that offer to others?

Those two points were scored by Paul Mannion and Niall Scully, albeit another three came from Ciarán Kilkenny in midfield, two from half-back Jack McCaffrey and three more from the bench.

So, 0-10 from play ... but another game where Dublin struggled to create clearcut goal chances.

Kevin McManamon's misfiring night was summed up by his failure to convert their one sniff at a green flag. Thus, for the fourth SFC game running, a Dublin player has failed to score a goal from play ... their three against Mayo came via a brace of gift-wrapped own goals and another replay present from the penalty spot.

You could argue that Gavin's decision to shake up his attack, offering first SFC starts to Scully and Con O'Callaghan, backfired ... but this was the right time to do so. And maybe he should do some further reshuffling against Westmeath or Offaly.

But, in truth, it's not all about personnel ... Dublin were equally frustrated by the blanket defence approach of Tyrone and Donegal in the league campaign just gone.

Are they guilty of being too patient, at the risk of predictability?

Dublin still retain all the necessary attacking qualities of pace (in abundance), two-footed marksmen (who can score from distance) and multiple options (starting or off the bench) that you require to break down a massed defence.

It will be interesting to see if it's a case of Gavin shrewdly tailoring preparation so that his high-mileage heroes peak in August/September.


In the meantime, it will be just as intriguing to see if Kildare and Meath can maintain their swashbuckling summer starts when they face each other on June 17 - or when the winners tackle, in all probability, Dublin on July 16.

Minus two of their best young forwards, Neil Flynn and Ben McCormack, Kildare still amassed 1-21 against Laois. They had 13 different scorers; 1-18 came from open play.

But even this was eclipsed by Meath's staggering 0-27 against Louth, of which 0-20 came from play.

It bodes well for a more entertaining Leinster SFC than last summer's grim spectacle. Even more so if the Dubs can reclaim their buccaneering spirit of old.

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