GAA Football

The simple reason Dublin will beat Galway

Galway have been pressing the opposition kickout man-to-man rather than zonally - and that could be fatal against the deadly left boot of Stephen Cluxton. Picture: RTÉ

All-Ireland SFC semi-final: Dublin v Galway (today, 5pm, Croke Park, live on RTÉ2 and Sky Sports Arena)

SORRY to break it down in such colourless terms, but Galway won’t beat Dublin for one very simple yet vitally important reason – they won’t win enough possession to do it.

The Irish News’ good friends at Performa Sports offered a good indication shortly after last year’s All-Ireland final as to why Dublin had only beaten Mayo by a single point.

In their statistical analysis they revealed that across almost 80 minutes of play, Dublin had 286 possessions. Mayo had 291.

Dublin had 46 attacks. Mayo had 48.

In the first half, Stephen Rochford’s side turned over six of Dublin’s kickouts. That’s almost unheard of in the Stephen Cluxton era.

They didn’t do it by pressing man-for-man, but rather following the champions’ template of marking zones. Six forwards in their traditional positions, giving Cluxton no space inside his own half into which he can drop the ball.

Galway have been unfairly criticised all year for being overly defensive. From the beginning of the year, they’ve made a point of pushing up on the opposition’s kickouts. They did it well in Croke Park against Kerry.

But if Galway press man-for-man on Cluxton’s kickouts, as they have done all season, then they will lose this game.

That, of all that they took from the National League final, should be the biggest lesson. Kevin Walsh had his side desperately trying to hem Dublin in that way, but the sheer athleticism of Dublin’s defence, allied to the space they can create out wide against such a press, makes them almost impossible to close in.

And at the other end, the Metropolitan forwards have it sussed. Not only have they six men in a zone, but any strays are picked up. At times in that league decider, Dublin had two defenders back in their own half on Galway’s kickouts.

The major issue the Tribesmen have on that front is Ruairi Lavelle’s restarts. They’re reliable, consistent and predictable – and that’s the problem.

There’s very little disguise about them. They pick a side, they load it with bodies, and they kick it down on top of Tom Flynn.

All of his nine long kicks against Roscommon went to the same side. The majority against Kerry went to the same side. Eight of the nine in the first half against Kildare, same side.

As kickout strategies go at this level, it’s very limited.

When you break down the four meaningful games they’ve played this summer – against Mayo, Roscommon, Kerry and Kildare – they’ve won 67 per cent of their own restarts that have been kicked long.

Against Mayo, it was 57 per cent. That won’t be good enough here, and yet with the way they set up plus the quality of high fielders and break ball winners that Dublin possess, it’s hard to see the figure improving greatly on that.

Paul Conroy is not only a significant loss to them in that guise, but he was also at the heart of so much of their good attacking play in the league final. When he ran at Dublin, they struggled with him.

Flynn and Peter Cooke have done fairly well to cover for him so far, but this is an arena where every minor blemish can look like a first degree burn.

Dublin are masters at turning the screw. It might take 15 minutes, it might take 25, but once they get that Galway kickout locked down, you will see them hammer it for the rest of the day.

The Connacht champions will still break even at worst on their own kickouts because of the quality of ballwinners they have, and that’s no shame. In itself, they could survive of that.

But the fact that Stephen Cluxton will get his kicks away into space if Galway go man-to-man rather than zonal on their press, it leaves them with a deficiency of possession that no amount of stardust or effort will overcome.

None of this is to say Galway won’t go close. They might only lose this game by a couple of points. Certainly the six point handicap seems harsh on them given what we know they will bring.

There’s a good chance that they’ll push Dublin harder than either of the teams on the other side. We won’t know for sure until we’re three weeks down and the ribbons are being tied to Sam Maguire.

The champions’ full-forward line may well have the addition of Cormac Costello, because it could do with a spark. They have been strangely subdued, perhaps in part by a more limited role in a less adventurous style of play lately.

A full-back line of Declan Kyne, Sean Andy Ó Ceallaigh and Eoghan Kerin, with most likely Gareth Bradshaw and Sean Kelly back in front, has the physical capacity to frustrate Dublin.

Galway bring a greater aggression to their defensive work than either of the Ulster pair that will do their dance a day later.

They also carry a more direct counter-attacking game. A half-forward presence is a regular feature.

Damien Comer gave Michael Fitzsimons and Philly McMahon both hell in April. They could do nothing only foul him. He got three of his own from play, and won a clutch of frees that were scored.

Jonny Cooper looks his most likely detail this evening, and Cian O’Sullivan’s presence in the space in front will make a considerable difference in terms of the quality and quantity of supply he gets.

Shane Walsh has been one of the summer’s brightest stars, and he could be the man that creates goals if they exist for his side.

But, speaking of flaws, his free-taking can be as erratic as it can majestic. Dean Rock’s superior consistency is a major weapon on the other end and anything short of flawless – as Cillian O’Connor has found out – can be fatal.

All of this might read like Galway are a million miles away. They aren’t. They’re close. Maybe closer than anyone else. But their flaws are just that bit more prominent.

Though not without a fight, Dublin to make their fourth straight final.

Analysis (by Cahair O'Kane)

Man of the moment
Brian Howard

THE 20-year-old Raheny man has gone from virtual unknown to one of the stars of this year’s championship. Came to real prominence in the win over Donegal and backed it up with another excellent display against Tyrone. His high-fielding ability and athleticism has seen some name him as the natural successor to Paul Flynn, which doesn’t seem to have burdened him one bit. Jim Gavin clearly looked the cut of him, giving him the whole O’Byrne Cup and National League to get up to speed. Done his best work in around midfield, and seems to have displaced Michael Darragh Macauley. Coping with him and Brian Fenton coming at you from the centre is no easy task.

Team talk
Dublin (probable):
S Cluxton; M Fitzsimons, P McMahon, J Cooper; J McCarthy, C O’Sullivan, J Small; B Howard, B Fenton; N Scully, C Kilkenny, C O’Callaghan; D Rock, P Mannion, C Costello

THERE are suggestions that Eoin Murchan might be asked to do a job on Galway maestro Ian Burke, and that would come as no great surprise given the impact he’s had when he has played. Michael Fitzsimons would be the most likely to miss out. John Small could be chosen over Jack McCaffrey with an eye on doing a job on Shane Walsh, while the withdrawal of Cormac Costello on 47 minutes against Roscommon last week having hit nine points suggests there’s a fair chance he’ll start in attack.

Galway (probable): R Lavelle; D Kyne, SA Ó Ceallaigh, E Kerin; C Sweeney, G Bradshaw, J Heaney; P Cooke, T Flynn; E Brannigan, M Daly, S Kelly; I Burke, D Comer, S Walsh

MICHAEL Daly would be the biggest doubt of the 15 above having gone off early in the win over Kildare with a hamstring strain that caused him to miss the Monaghan game. If he’s unavailable, Gary O’Donnell will most likely come in at wing-back and Johnny Heaney will push into the half-forwards. Peter Cooke and Tom Flynn have emerged as the central pairing since Paul Conroy’s injury, and their full-back line has been unchanged all season long.

Dublin tactical take
THE Dubs will do what the Dubs will do. Their defensive match-ups will be crucial. John Small seems the obvious choice to pick up Shane Walsh, while Jim Gavin may well put Jonny Cooper on Damien Comer as he wouldn’t want the Annaghdown man to have a psychological advantage, having given both Michael Fitzsimons and Philly McMahon their fill of it in the league final. But they’ll latch on to Paul Conroy’s absence and try to suffocate Galway by loading bodies up on Ruairi Lavelle’s kickouts. At times in the league final they had just three men in their own half on his restarts. Galway will test an attack that’s likely to show just one change from the six that started that league final, and struggled to find a path at times.

Galway tactical take
IT’S Galway that will have to deal with most of the tactical questions that require answering, as is the way when you’re facing the All-Ireland champions. Given the evidence of recent years, there remain serious doubts as to whether their deep-lying, counter-attacking plan will bring them the desired return in Croke Park. What they do have at their disposal is a set of talented forwards. If they can use the boot often enough on the break, and cause Dublin problems before they can get back and set into position, then they stand a real chance. But they might not get the same out of Damien Comer that they got in April’s game, and if not, is their attacking structure good enough? They also have a problem in that Ruairi Lavelle’s kickouts are quite telegraphed, and without Paul Conroy, they could find themselves overwhelmed on their own ball.

Key battle
Jonny Cooper v Damien Comer

IN the springtime, Comer was proving almost unplayable. His was the bull ignorance of Kevin McManamon times two, and a better quality of finishing on top. In the National League final, Dublin could find no way to contain him. He hit three points from play, won a handful of frees in front of goal and bullied Michael Fitzsimons and then Philly McMahon out of it. On that evidence, Jim Gavin is likely to go for the physical Jonny Cooper on him from the start. He will have the added protection of Cian O’Sullivan and if, between them, they can break even, that should be enough to sufficiently stunt Galway’s entire attacking division.

Weather watch
THERE’S a suggestion that the strange liquid substance that has been falling from the skies occasionally this week could make another appearance around throw-in time. It’s been known to leave a greasy turf and force supporters to don one of those mackerels they paid €5 for outside instead of just bringing of their coats from home.

Last championship meeting
1983 All-Ireland SFC final: Dublin 1-10 Galway 1-8

ARGUABLY the most infamous All-Ireland final ever played, it’s remembered four the fact that four players were sent off, and is often referred to as ‘the game of shame’.
In front of a jammed Croke Park, into which many supporters failed to gain entry because of the crowd but where the official attendance was logged as just 71,988, the Dubs finished the game with 12 men but held on thanks to 1-6 from Barney Rock.
Brian Mullins was the first to go after 27 minutes for striking Brian Talty, who then sustained another injury that left him unable to continue in a fight between players while heading for the changing room.
Ray Hazley (Dublin) and Tomás Tierney (Galway) had been sent off five minutes before the break for fighting, while Dublin’s Kieran Duff also got the line just after the break following an off-the-ball incident. There could have been more too.
Kevin Heffernan’s side led by 1-5 to 0-2 at the break, and two early second half scores against the wind settled them. Stephen Joyce’s goal brought Galway back into it but they couldn’t quite find the late scores.

Previous Championship meetings
1983 All-Ireland SFC final: Dublin 1-10 Galway 1-8
1976 All-Ireland SFC semi-final: Dublin 1-8 Galway 0-8
1974 All-Ireland SFC final: Dublin 0-14 Galway 1-6
1963 All-Ireland SFC final: Dublin 1-9 Galway 0-10
1958 All-Ireland SFC semi-final: Dublin 2-7 Galway 1-9
1942 All-Ireland SFC final: Dublin 1-10 Galway 1-8
1934 All-Ireland SFC final: Dublin 1-9 Galway 3-5
1933 All-Ireland SFC semi-final: Dublin 1-4 Galway 0-8
1922 All-Ireland SFC final: Dublin 0-6 Galway 0-4 (played in 1923)

Who’s the ref?
Barry Cassidy (Derry)

THE biggest appointment in the Bellaghy man’s career, which took off after his excellent handling of the 2010 Derry SFC final. Joined the inter-county panel in 2012 and refereed that year’s All-Ireland minor final. This has been his biggest year since. Got the big calls right in the Leinster final, and the fact that John Small’s red card was subsequently upheld was significant. Dealt well with Galway’s win over Kerry on the opening weekend of the Super 8s. Will likely try and let the punches roll early on but not afraid to make the big decision.

Betting box
Dublin 1/7
Draw 14/1
Galway 11/2
Dublin (-6) 5/6
Draw (-6) 10/1
Galway (+6) 11/10
First goalscorer
Dean Rock 5/1
No goalscorer 15/2
Damien Comer 15/2
Con O’Callaghan 8/1
Good value
Dublin to win and both teams to score a goal 11/10

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