Sunday 26 February 2017

Griffin relishes new role as eye in the sky

PAUL Griffin could be forgiven if he thought that the light at the end of the tunnel was an oncoming train, such has been his misfortune over the last 18 months.

A routine jump for a high ball in a league game at Parnell Park against Monaghan in March 2010 was something he had done thousands of times since he first got a football in his hands as a child.

This one was different.

An awkward landing resulted in the Dublin captain ending up in a crumpled heap on the ground clutching his knee.

The curse of the dreaded cruciate ligament injury had struck again and, as a physiotherapist, nobody needed to tell Griffin what that meant: goodbye 2010 in terms of football.

Instead of having a central role in Dublin's rebuilding process under Pat Gilroy's management, and in Kilmacud Crokes' run to Dublin and Leinster club championship success, Griffin faced the slow, frustrating grind of rehab following knee surgery.

HOPE

2011? Not much better, although it began with hope of a return to playing for club and county.

Griffin (28) played a couple of challenge games for the Dubs and was on the bench for some league games, but fluid on the knee kept causing swelling, particularly after hard training sessions.

Eventually, a cartilage problem was diagnosed, and that required more surgery.

A different issue, but the same outcome -- no football for the talented defender who had won five Leinster titles with the Dubs and an All-Ireland club championship with Crokes.

What a year to be sidelined, as finally, Dublin have got themselves to an All-Ireland final after a 16-year absence from the GAA's September showpiece.

Griffin won't be playing, but he has found a new role as a member of Pat Gilroy's 'eye in the sky' team.

The supporters are by and large unaware of the technological systems utilised by the top county teams nowadays, but nothing is left to chance.

On Sunday, Griffin will take his place high in the Hogan Stand alongside Dubs statistician Ray Boyne and the other technical crew who use computer analysis to track trends during the match.

This is an active role where a player's viewpoint from above the pitch can influence the incremental decisions by which an All-Ireland is won or lost.

Griffin downplays his involvement, but his experience and knowledge of the game can only be of benefit to Pat Gilroy and the Dubs' management team in the heat of battle.

The stats squad, including Griffin, will be in one of the boxes at mezzanine level in Croke Park next Sunday.

"In terms of matches, it's just helping out a little bit in terms of some of our stats things and trying to pick up patterns, such as how well we're playing our own game plan, or what things the other team are doing.

"Up there you can get a better overview in terms of the overall play, whereas when you're down on the sideline, it can be hard to get an overall picture.

"We link in down to the sideline, for example, if they want to ask questions about what someone's doing, we can track it for them.

"Ray Boyne would be our main guy in terms of looking after stats and that so he'd be there as well.

"It's just about trying to pick up any bits of information in real time that might help us out.

"It's not as complete an analysis that you might do after the match, more about trying to pick up something that you maybe might not have noticed when you're further down at ground level," said Griffin.

And forget about taking notes. There's a growing range of gadgets that can assist in monitoring players' movement and energy levels during a game.

"There are lots of different apps and technology that makes it a lot easier visually to pick up information, and it's quicker and easier than using pen and paper," he said.

Griffin is involved and contributing to the cause in this way, but it's a poor second to playing, particularly when the Sam Maguire cup is up for grabs and Kerry are the opposition.

"Yes, it is frustrating, but really it is what it is. It was this way from the start of the championship, so I've had time to come around. Now you just want guys to do well.

"It would be nice to be involved and playing, but that's football. These things happen. You get injured. Other lads get injured. It's just one of those things so it's just about dealing with it.

"You'd like to be there playing, but the fact is you just have to find another way to help guys perform well on the day," he said.

This week the excitement and speculation will ramp up for the supporters, but realistically, between technology, TV, and good old-fashioned football lore, Dublin and Kerry know all about each other.

The big question will be which set of players can rise to the occasion and do themselves justice on the day?

In that respect, Dublin are underdogs, and Griffin identifies the threat posed by Kerry as their overall unrelenting team effort in addition to their obvious individual stars.

"I think it's that selflessness that Kerry have that makes them such a challenge and so adaptable in terms of the game plan," he said.

"When guys aren't in position to get scores, they don't get frustrated and try and force it, they'll just pass it off to the next man and let him get the scores that way.

"The challenge in trying to stop Kerry is that you have to manage their six forwards, and then you've got Bryan Sheehan in midfield who will kick a score from 50 yards, and the likes of Tomas O Se who will go forward.

"Declan O'Sullivan is obviously a key guy in terms of their style of play, whether it's direct or whether it's more subtle and Colm Cooper as well.

"For us, it's going to be about trying to execute our game plan as best we can and for as long as we can. That's probably going to need to be the full 70 minutes.

"If we drop it off for 10 or 15 minutes, we'll probably come up short, so it's a huge challenge.

"Kerry collect All-Ireland medals. It's what they do, so for us it's just about doing all we can to prevent them from getting one more."

Irish Independent

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