GAA Football

Dublin's defensive tweaks earned them deserved win

Philip Jordan believes that with three Sams in five years, Dublin are one of the great teams in the modern game
Philip Jordan

LAST Sunday’s All-Ireland final won’t go down as a classic, but there is no doubt the best team in the country lifted Sam Maguire.

Conditions were awful, but it cannot totally excuse the poor quality of football on show. The number of basic mistakes made was surprising, especially from two teams known for their footballing skills.

Despite the quality of football I still found it an intriguing match. The tactical battle was absorbing and Jim Gavin definitely won the battle on the sideline.

Gavin deserves a huge amount of credit for the change in style he has brought to the Dublin team this year. He took the brunt of the criticism last year when the lack of defensive shape in the team was exposed by Donegal.

To keep Kerry to nine points in an All-Ireland final was testament to the change in tactics from a team that was cut open at the semi-final stage last year.

The Dublin management team had to change the attitude of their players in order to implement an effective defensive gameplan. It is very easy to get players to filter back into defence; the real challenge is getting them to serve a purpose when they get back.

The role of Cian O’Sullivan has been crucial in this area. As a player, his reading of the game and positional awareness are superb. However, one area that can get overlooked is the amount of organising he does in defence. O’Sullivan being fit was a huge boost to Dublin and it’s unlikely they would have looked so solid in defence without him.

With all the hype around Dublin it is difficult for any manager to ingrain a ‘team first’ attitude into the squad. In the past, we’ve seen Dublin players who are more concerned about their perceived personal performance than the team winning. This year there has been a different vibe from the Dubs.

Evidence of this is the work-rate of their forwards. Dublin’s forwards worked much harder to win the ball back than their Kerry counterparts. The likes of Bernard Brogan would not have been known for his tackling a few years ago, but the desire to pressure the Kerry defenders in possession stood out.

Jim Gavin has also been willing to pick players that fit his system. Denis Bastick wouldn’t be the best fielder, passer, or shooter in the Dublin side. He certainly doesn’t fit the mould of a typical Dublin player.

However, he does the unseen work that allows others to showcase their skills. On Sunday his role was to nullify the aerial threat of the Kerry midfield and to drop back, allowing O’Sullivan to play as the spare man. Every winning team needs players like Bastick.

Dublin’s subs came on and had a significant impact on the game. The physical nature of the game means that subs have a much greater influence and the option of introducing the likes of Kevin McManamon, Michael Darragh Macauley, and Alan Brogan was massive for Jim Gavin.

In contrast, Kerry manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice didn’t have his best day. It might not have mattered what plans he made, but a lot of the calls he did make didn’t come off.

It was a strange decision to leave Colm Cooper on the pitch for the full 70 minutes. His poor form from the Tyrone game continued as he had a limited impact on the match.

Jim Gavin got the match-up correct by putting Philly McMahon on Cooper. Cooper was forced onto the back foot and spent more time chasing McMahon than offering an attacking threat.

Some of the other Kerry substitutions were difficult to work out. Kerry lacked any attacking threat and a change in tactics was needed much earlier.

It was surprising that Kieran Donaghy wasn’t introduced by half-time to allow them to play more direct football. Yet putting him on for Paul Geaney was strange when Geaney was Kerry’s most dangerous forward.

Kerry needed to play with more pace as well in attack and Paul Galvin getting his first Championship action of the year wasn’t going to improve that aspect of their play. The much-talked-about Kerry bench didn’t look as strong when they were needed to come on and save the game.

It’s not often you see a Kerry side struggle for scores. Fitzmaurice will have been extremely disappointed with the lack of cutting edge up front. Kerry teams are renowned for their attacking talent, but I had noted some doubts I had about the form of their forwards last week.

James O’Donoghue did kick three points but he struggled to influence the game for long periods. Add in the poor form of Cooper and Dublin were comfortable in dealing with the Kerry attack.

Unfortunately there was one major negative incident in the game. Philly McMahon appeared to gouge Kieran Donaghy and behaviour like that has no place in the game.

The fact that it barely got a mention on The Sunday Game was surprising. There are plenty from Tyrone who would question the double standards of the reaction in comparison to the coverage of Tyrone after the Monaghan match.

The worst aspect is that this incident, along with a few in the drawn Mayo game, will overshadow what has been a brilliant year for McMahon. He is a leading contender for Footballer of the Year and a few incidents could end up costing him that award.

McMahon is a physical player who needs to play on the edge, but he crossed the line on Sunday.

I tipped Dublin at the start of the year to lift Sam Maguire and they are deserving champions. Individually they have the best players and this year they had the gameplan to go along with it. The age profile of the team and strength in depth of their panel means they will be challenging for the foreseeable future.

Dublin have now won three All-Irelands in the last five years. With a record like that they deserve to be talked about as one of the great teams.

Certainly they are as good as any team in my time and the frightening thought for everyone else is they are capable of adding more titles in the future.

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