Alan Brogan: Ciarán Kilkenny epitomises Dublin... safe and controlled but not quite at full pelt
Read Alan Brogan every week in The Herald
Published 29/09/2016 | 18:49
YOU can interpret Ciarán Kilkenny’s performances this year in a couple of opposing, but equally valid ways.
On the one hand, marvel at his possession stats and that intuitive, measured and safe use of the ball - the strident conductor of the Dublin movement.
Or you can surmise that a lot of what he’s doing is just a little bit too prudent, too cautious and not sufficiently penetrative or entrusting of his talents.
I see Ciarán’s displays as a microcosm of Dublin’s demeanour this summer.
First off, Ciarán is following instruction. And no-one does that better than Ciarán Kilkenny.
But I’d love to see him adhere to a more adventurous, less restrictive set of instructions.
I’d love to see Ciarán Kilkenny set free.
If I was Jim Gavin, I’d tell Ciarán to just go out and be great, to express himself and play to create and score and win, rather than to control.
He needs to be emboldened to take on men a bit more, to be more incisive, to give the killer pass.
And be in no doubt, he can do all of that.
Ciarán lives five minutes from my house and we used to travel to training occasionally. He was always the inquisitive sort when it came to football, but respectful of others and their opinions.
We’re a generation apart, but we were close.
He often asked me about playing centre-forward and in 2013, the summer I missed through injury when he started there, he’d hop balls about how best to perform his range of duties.
Until this summer, his scoring return has been exceptional for a half-forward, though he has never scored a goal for Dublin, and that was something I spoke to him about when we shared a dressing room.
In the last few years of my career, I didn’t score or threaten many goals either, but put that more down to the ageing process and the inevitability that I didn’t have the legs any more to get on the end of the moves I was starting.
If he gives a kick pass in, he has the energy and the pace to get in after it.
Ciarán has the ability to win Footballer of the Year.
In fact, I think he has the tools and the time to win multiple Footballer of the Year awards.
But the way he is playing the role – the real controlled, conservative play-maker – masks what he’s really good at.
He has the ability to kick long and accurately. He has the ability to go by men. And he has the ability to kick scores from range and angle.
We haven’t seen much of any of that of late and that’s not being critical of Ciarán, it’s just the way he’s being deployed.
Anything you ask Ciarán to do, he can do. He’s a very smart player. And like the rest of the Dublin team, I’d love to see a change in tack on Saturday.
He is the epitomisation of how Dublin are playing at the moment; safe, controlled but not quite at full pelt.
All prodding, poking and stretching rather than direct and forceful attack.
When any team is really in their groove, the full-forward line know when the ball is coming.
You can see the inside men holding their run until that second they expect the ball to be released long into the space they’ve made for themselves.
At the moment, it just looks like Dublin aren’t in sync.
I always knew with Bernard where he wanted the ball.
I had a similar relationship with Jayo and Mossie Quinn too.
They intuitively knew where I was looking to kick it. And they would stay out of that space until the very last moment.
With Dublin, the inside forwards are making runs but judging by their body language, they’re not totally convinced the ball is coming.
Yet they have enough accurate kickers and enough ball-winning forwards to go after Mayo and, perversely, it could help that Mayo will feel their backs won most of their man-to-man battles in the drawn game.
They may be emboldened to push on now, to trust their men in direct combat. And with quick ball, the Dublin forwards can exploit that.
It looks a lot like a lot of guys have been playing very safe.
Or that fellas might be conscious about keeping their spot in the team, hell-bent on not making mistakes.
For the sake of this game and this All-Ireland, they need to lose that attitude and go and win it.
They went in at half-time the last day five points up. Lucky? Probably. But five up all the same.
And if they had attacked the second half a bit more, got a score or two at the very start of it, Mayo wouldn’t have been able to make back all that ground.
They had their foot on Mayo’s throats but lacked the downward pressure to execute the kill, something they rightfully garnered a strong reputation for over the past five years.
There was a nervousness.
You could see that a few of them were wearing the fact that they hadn’t performed well in the first half, despite the lead.
Getting an early score, especially if it’s with one of your early touches, has a massive settling effect on a player.
The last day, Bernard took a shot that might not have been on, looking for that first calming score. Dean Rock missed his first free.
Little things like that can change the mood on the pitch and in the stadium and they went against Dublin the last day.
I don’t think Dublin will be so errant this Saturday.
And I don’t see them being as cautious.
It should be enough.
Ciarán Kilkenny has both the ability and the guile to set that tone for this All-Ireland and many more for Dublin in future years.