Friday 13 December 2019

Rivals can 'do a Chelsea' to upset rampant Dubs

Gavin's free-scoring champions thrive on time and space – so why play into their hands?

Will Jim Gavin's Dubs be the victims of Jose-Mourinho-style defensive display this summer?
Will Jim Gavin's Dubs be the victims of Jose-Mourinho-style defensive display this summer?
Jose Mourinho

Colm Parkinson

Attack-minded teams in sport are what get supporters excited. Liverpool have lit up the Premier League this season with their flair and goals.

On the home front, Dublin are playing an attacking, entertaining brand of Gaelic football that has only been equalled by the talented Kerry team before them.

However, there's more than one way to skin a cat. Brendan Rodgers was critical of Jose Mourinho's tactics after Sunday's 2-0 home defeat to Chelsea.

He said: "It's the style of football, it's defensive, and the polar opposite of the way we work. They defended well. We tried everything we could but our game is based on being offensive, being creative as opposed to stopping."

What Mourinho did was pragmatic. Liverpool had blown teams away at home, so why play into their hands? Why not make life difficult for them, cut down the space their forwards thrive on and hope for some luck and a breakaway goal? It's no surprise Chelsea have beaten offensive teams like Liverpool and Manchester City at home and away this season.

With this in mind, why don't Gaelic football teams use similar defensive tactics against Jim Gavin's high-scoring Dubs, especially in Croke Park?

Brilliant forwards, attacking midfielders and an attacking half-back line are features of this Dublin team, yet inferior teams like Kildare, Meath and Derry think they can go to Croke Park and take the Light Blues on at their own game. It's madness.

Last season, on the Dubs' road to winning Sam, Westmeath conceded 1-22, Kildare 4-16, Meath 2-15, Cork 1-16, Kerry 3-18 and Mayo 2-12. With the exception of a half-hearted effort from an average Westmeath team, none of the above mentioned sides played with defensive tactics against Gavin's high-scoring team.

Despite last season's scoring stats, we saw Derry, a year later, coming to Croke Park and conceding 3-19 in the league final. Cork were routed for 2-20 in the semi-final. Does this make sense to anyone?

In the 2011 All-Ireland semi-final Donegal shocked the GAA world with their defensive tactics against a Dublin team that had scored 0-22 against Tyrone in the quarter-final. Dublin only scored 0-8 against Donegal.

While Donegal eventually lost, they looked the more likely winners for much of the game.

They packed their defence, frustrating Dublin, and had Colm McFadden taken his goal chance in the second half they probably would have won.

In 2011, a much inferior Laois team used similar tactics in Croke Park and only conceded 1-12 while scoring 0-12 themselves. Now both these results were achieved against a more conservative Dublin, under Pat Gilroy, so there's no guarantee that defensive tactics will definitely work against the current team. But why not try?

Surely cutting down the space enjoyed by the Brogans, Diarmuid Connolly, Paul Flynn et al will help keep the score down, create turnovers and frustrate the more talented Dubs, throwing them off their game?

I'm not promoting defensive tactics across the board in the GAA, far from it. Like most people, I love watching attacking football.

But surely teams that train six times a week can have two game plans – one attacking, for games against teams of a similar standard, and another more defensive plan for when they play the likes of Kerry, Cork and Dublin.

Mourinho said after Sunday's win at Anfield: "I am confused with what the media thinks about defensive displays. It was a beautiful victory."

I don't often agree with him, but I'd take a beautiful victory over beautiful football any day of the week.


Irish Independent

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