Friday 24 March 2017

Gilroy must stick to his game plan -- even if it is flawed

Kevin McManamon has been held
in reserve presumably to help
maintain Dublin's high-octane
game plan as an impact sub
Kevin McManamon has been held in reserve presumably to help maintain Dublin's high-octane game plan as an impact sub

Keith Barr

WE may well have seen the All-Ireland front-runners in action in Killarney last Sunday, but the chasing pack will get its turn this weekend to show if the gap can be closed on Cork and Kerry.

Dublin are heading that chase at present and while they haven't set the world alight with their championship outings to date, Pat Gilroy will be more than happy that they are winning ugly.

We have seen a lot of flash from Dublin in the Leinster campaign in recent years and we are only too aware in the capital how little it counted for when the real examination began in August.

The Kildare match wasn't anything like the fare in Killarney, but it was an intense battle and should stand to Dublin, who stuck to their guns with their game plan.

It's almost accepted across the board now that if Dublin are going to push on and win an All-Ireland, they will have to find a way to maintain their high-octane game for 70 minutes. Given the end to the Kildare clash, it's hard to know if there was any improvement on this front, although Dublin were the better team.

And I presume holding Barry Cahill and Kevin McManamon in reserve again for the clash with Wexford is part of that plan, even though they'll be raging they are not starting. Both can run at the opposition -- just what you want your subs doing during the closing period of a match.

However, I'm concerned that Dublin might still be lacking a player who isn't a straight-line runner, a player with the ability to really hurt the opposition coming on from the bench. A player who has the confidence to do his job as a sub for 10 or 15 minutes, someone to take the heat off the Brogans.

And from what I've seen up until now, McManamon is a better man to start a game and set a high tempo from the off.

All of which concerns potential games in August and beyond. So what about Sunday?

Well, to be honest, it's hard to read the Leinster final on its merits, given how poor a barometer for future prospects it's been in the past. And given those bad experiences, Dublin are really on a hiding to nothing.

So, have Wexford a chance? Do Dublin need to impress?

Wexford must be confident, given the momentum they've built up and their experience of just falling short against Dublin last year.

I was impressed with how Wexford countered Dublin's approach in that game, particularly how they used their goalkeeper Anthony Masterson as an extra man to help move the ball out of defence. They pressed Dublin's kick-outs well and won plenty of possession.

It has to be said that Dublin's game plan was relatively new when the sides met last summer and Gilroy's players are now far more accustomed to the approach and what's expected.

So in theory, Dublin's experience should mean they are more than a match for what Wexford can throw at them, despite the high-scoring exploits of players like Shane Roche, Ben Brosnan, Ciaran Lyng and Red Barry on the weaker side of the draw.

Jason Ryan has impressed me as a manager since day one and it's great to see him continue to find improvement. He could have sat back and lamented Matty Forde's retirement but they have driven on since then.

However, while I don't expect anything like the drubbing they got three years ago, Dublin should be too strong for Wexford to contain.

Dublin will look to bottle up the Wexford forwards, dent their enthusiasm for attack and out-shoot them in a slog to the line.

It doesn't sound too appetising, but this is the only sensible way for Dublin to approach the game. Blitzing Wexford won't stand to them later in the competition and better to stick to the plan even if the public are less than impressed in the aftermath.

I know I'm like a broken record in saying that I think the 'defensive' strategy of men funnelling back all the time is flawed but now is not the time to change.

However, at some point I think Dublin are going to have to commit their wing-backs to attack more often with the likes of Cahill perfect for this role. It would be nice to think Dublin might do this against one of the big guns when they're not expecting it.

For Wexford to have any chance of causing a huge upset, they will need to add to their seven-goal tally to date, and preferably early in the game before Dublin get a stranglehold on it.

That would be no bad thing for the neutral observer but I suspect Dublin, one way or another, will still grind out another Leinster title.

And so will begin the long wait until the August Bank Holiday weekend, when we'll see if Dublin can cope with the break.

Who knows? With Kerry pushed on already and full of purpose maybe this is the year the 'front door' becomes the new 'back'.

Meanwhile, I'd like to praise Dublin's minor managers Shay Boland (hurling) and Dessie Farrell (football), who are continuing their respective campaigns catering for a number of talented dual players in both squads.

It would be easy for both men to force the choice on the players but instead they have managed the situation, ensuring the dual players continue to develop in both codes.

Farrell's side will be hoping to match the hurlers when they take on Meath in the Leinster final on Sunday. The Dublin fans could do worse than head in early and give them a bit of support.

Irish Independent

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