Saturday 3 December 2016

Oxygen of Croke Park goal bursts providing impetus for Dubs to breathe at higher altitude

Trademark quickfire green flags can leave opponents on the floor, writes Colm Keys

Published 19/09/2015 | 02:30

Bernard Brogan slides home Dublin’s opening goal against Mayo in the replay - within a minute Philly McMahon had grabbed their second, and soon after Kevin McMananmon followed with another
Bernard Brogan slides home Dublin’s opening goal against Mayo in the replay - within a minute Philly McMahon had grabbed their second, and soon after Kevin McMananmon followed with another

According to superstition, the sighting of two magpies together is a sign of joy.

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Dublin supporters might think the same way about their team's goalscoring exploits. As with magpies, where there's one there's generally another lurking not too far away.

No team thrives on the oxygen of goals in Croke Park like them.

Their capacity to follow one with another is quite striking, the din that greets the first one not yet receded when it erupts again.

It's as if the players can tap into the voltage coursing through the stadium and sense it demands a swift follow up.

At that altitude so many teams find themselves wilting.

It was a point made by Kerry manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice in the build-up to this All-Ireland final as he sounded caution over the goal threat they posed.

Drawing comparison with the Kilkenny hurlers, Fitzmaurice advised the need for measures to prevent momentum if Dublin scored a goal.

"They go for goals, it's part of their game. When they get goals they get life from that and the Hill really gets involved," observed Fitzmaurice.

"It's no coincidence that they often get their second goal soon after their first one," he noted.

Nothing deflates opponents quite like a Dublin goal on a big Championship day, striking instant fear that another one is just around the corner.

The evidence of that has been more compelling than ever this season.

Against Mayo the last day Bernard Brogan whipped in one and then engineered another for Philly McMahon within a minute to help drive a nine-point swing. Once McMahon had bundled the second one over the line it was game over.

Westmeath's electrics blew from much the same power surge in the Leinster final. Hanging on to the hope that a 0-8 to 0-4 half-time deficit gave them a slim chance, Brogan and Jack McCaffrey, again within a minute early in the third quarter, had their opponents rummaging in the dark.

Kildare were pummelled into submission in similar fashion in their 18-point Leinster semi-final hammering. This time the 'kill' came early, Dean Rock and Brogan once more the assassins with eighth and 12th-minute goals.

It's far from a new phenomenon. Rivals have been floored by that lethal left-right combination so often in the past.

In last year's All-Ireland quarter-final Monaghan were holding their own 25 minutes in when Diarmuid Connolly and Brogan struck within two minutes as a seven-point gap was opened.

Earlier that year Mayo looked to be cruising to a League win under lights when substitute Eoghan O'Gara hit them for two goals in a four-minute spell to reel them in.

Go back to the epic All-Ireland semi-final between Dublin and Kerry in 2013, the same time frame, four minutes, required for Kevin McManamon and Rock to close the deal as the clock ran down. Dublin won by seven - at no stage did it ever feel like it but the shock and awe nature of these goals can have that effect.

In 2012 Meath had quietly regained a foothold after a difficult start and were preparing to dock at half-time just two points in arrears when Brogan and Denis Bastick banged in goals and made it a damage limitation exercise.

Wexford lost their grip on a famous win in the previous match through the same two-goal trick, with Anthony Masterson's cruel luck leading to the first before James McCarthy quickly knifed through for a second.

Their ability for 'blitzkrieg' isn't just confined to the current team. Back in 2007, with Laois in prime position coming up to half-time in the Leinster final, Mark Vaughan and Brogan, inevitably, struck within a minute to put them 2-7 to 1-7 clear. A decent Laois team never recovered, losing by six points in the end.

Is it the impetus it gives Dublin or the state of chaos it strikes in opponents that creates these favourable conditions for them?

Dublin are on a Championship goal run that has already exceeded their two previous summer campaigns under Jim Gavin.

They are reputedly being more protective at the back, but that certainly hasn't stopped the goal rush at the other end.

In 2013, they hit six different opponents with 13 goals en route to All-Ireland success. Last year they dipped to nine, drawing their only blank on Gavin's watch against Donegal in the All-Ireland semi-final defeat.

Only twice in their last 28 games, dating back to the beginning of the 2011 campaign have they failed to score a goal in a Championship game (the 2012 All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Mayo being the other) and each time they have lost.

In each of their six games this year however they have scored at least two goals, culminating in 15 from six outings, an average of two-and-a-half per game.

There have been signs of a much more patient approach from Dublin, the move culminating in the point from Philly McMahon to push them into a five-point lead in the 63rd minute of the Mayo replay lasting almost two minutes and involving 12 players stringing 32 passes together being the perfect example. There hasn't been a better team score all summer.

An eight-goal return from nine league matches also reflected that different approach, on top of the heavier defensive ramparts opponents have built for them.

In three games against Cork, Derry and Monaghan in the League semi-final they didn't score a goal, in four more they scored just one.

By comparison they banged in 10 goals from the same sequence of nine games in 2013 and 14 in 2014. But this summer the goals have flowed like never before. And in quick succession.

As Fitzmaurice says, "no co-incidence."

Taking the sting out of a Dublin goal, if they happen to concede one, is something they are sure to have worked hard on over the last four weeks.

Irish Independent

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