Frank Roche devises a seven point plan for Pat Gilroy’s Boys in Blue ahead of an All-Ireland showdown with the KingdomNOW that the dust has settled on Gaelic football’s Armageddon – aka last Sunday’s semi-final from hell – Dublin footballers can do themselves a big favour by binning the DVD.
The All-Ireland final against Kerry will be an entirely different affair. It should be a football match, for starters, as opposed to a sporting perversion of chess. It could, potentially, be a classic.
But for Pat Gilroy and his band of doughty Dubs, they may well be better served if it doesn’t transcend into a classic because that’s exactly the type of game Kerry, more often than not, end up winning.
For scarily long periods last Sunday, Dublin struggled to think their way through the Donegal maze.
Eventually they got there, and that’s a tribute to perseverance and character as much as the barnstorming incursions of Kevin McManamon or the unflustered football brain of Bernard Brogan.
It’s also true that winning a semi-final by any means, after four successive failures, was the first and only prerequisite.
However, a repeat performance won’t suffice against Kerry. Gilroy knows that. His players know that.
Now they’ve 19 days to draw up a road-map that culminates in the steps of the Hogan Stand. Here’s what they have to do...
RECLAIM QUARTER-FINAL FLUENCY
Let’s start with the bleedin’ obvious. Strange as it may seem, Dublin have reached their first final in 16 years without playing their best football in 16 years. A bit like Cork last season, you might surmise.
They’ve impressed in patches, notably against Kildare, but only once have they produced a sustained performance redolent of All-Ireland champions-elect, and that came against Tyrone three weeks ago.
True, you aren’t comparing like with like but they went from scoring 0-22 against an orthodox (and admittedly far too lax) defensive system to managing a mere 0-8 against the Donegal Duvet.
Against Tyrone, they amassed 19 points from play while spurning several gilt-edged goal chances. Against Donegal, they tallied just two points from play and it took them an hour to score their first. Goal chances, bar a late opening when McManamon failed to pick out Michael Darragh Macauley, were almost non-existent. Ergo, plenty to work on.
DON’T INVITE A SHOOT-OUT
Yes, Dublin need to up their penetration but they cannot afford to let September 18 descend into a scorefest either.
We all know what happened the last time Dublin went toe-to-toe with Kerry in knockout battle: they leaked 1-24.
That ’09 quarter-final is likely to weigh far heavier on Dublin minds than last weekend’s semi-final. This one game, more than anything before or since, convinced Gilroy that his team must modify, adapt a more defensive game-plan – or die.
This helps to explain why Dublin persisted with three full-backs against one inside attacker for the entire first half against Donegal, and why their two wing-backs held rigid shape (presumably under instruction) even when frequently they’d no direct opponent to mark.
Our belief is that Dublin, albeit to a lesser extent, were also guilty of being too negative in that first half.
But that is of no real relevance now because Kerry will pose an entirely different, more lethal and multi-faceted attacking threat. Dublin will need to close off the channels to Stephen Cluxton’s goal because there are few better teams than Kerry when it comes to sniffing weakness and going for the jugular.
GET EVERYONE FIT
Initial indications suggest Rory O’Carroll will be fit for the final – a key consideration in the context that few other Dublin defenders look physically equipped for the task of nullifying Kieran Donaghy in the air.
True, Donaghy has laboured well below his best this summer, while Sean Murray executed an excellent man-marking job on ‘Star’ last February; but there’s a world of difference between early-league pointers and throwing a youngster in cold into an All-Ireland final.
At this stage, the hamstrung Paul Flynn looks a bigger All-Ireland doubt and that could be critical because some lung-busting Dublin wing-forward (be it Flynn or Bryan Cullen) must be earmarked to keep Tomas ó Sé so preoccupied with defence that he can’t exert his trademark attacking influence from deep.
DON’T OBSESS ABOUT
As we said at the outset, last Sunday was all about winning, and for Dublin to pass that psychological six-marker in the chill face of looming disaster is the most important positive to take from it.
Beyond that, they shouldn’t dwell too long on the negatives because that will only hinder their quest for the ultimate – to beat Kerry in championship combat for the first time since 1977 they must have total conviction and belief in their own ability.
STOP THE GOOCH
Forearmed is forewarned – or at least that’s the theory. So much for theories and stopping Kerry’s captain fantastic, who revealed a stunning return to his cerebral best against Mayo nine days ago.
Colm Cooper was supposedly a player bereft of form and confidence before inserting a dagger through Dublin hearts within 38 seconds of the quarter-final throw-in two years ago. He was allegedly in a similar pickle before Kerry’s recent semi-final.
A more telling pointer for Gilroy may well be assessing the DVD of last February’s thrilling league encounter. Dublin prevailed at the death yet Cooper was man of the match: he inspired Kerry’s late comeback, scoring five of his six points from play.
ISOLATE KERRY’S AGEING BACKS
If the favourites are perceived to be vulnerable, it’s in defence where five of the six starters have passed the 30-mark. Even Mayo, in eventual heavy defeat, created a handful of goal chances.
The key is for Dublin’s runners, be it Alan Brogan, Macauley or Flynn, to press the accelerator and test out the theory that some of these Kerry backs, notably Aidan O’Mahony and Eoin Brosnan, can be exposed if you place them on the back foot.
BEWARE THE HYPE!
Easier said than done: Dublin v Kerry in September is not merely the only gig in town, it’s the only gig on the planet – especially if our fallen rugby heroes keep floundering.
However, Gilroy has executed a very shrewd job in corralling his players from the worst excesses of Sky Blue mania. So there’s no reason to believe that they’ll suddenly be distracted from the actual challenge – and it’s a huge one – coming down the tracks.
The hype can wait until 5pm on September 18!