Tuesday 20 August 2019

Ciarán Whelan: 'Managers are under immense pressure and it's inevitable that some of them will react angrily'

While Dublin have shown their ability to absorb the absence of key players they’ll need James McCarthy back to full fitness

Meath manager Andy McEntee gestures during the Leinster SFC final defeat to Dublin last Sunday. Photo: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
Meath manager Andy McEntee gestures during the Leinster SFC final defeat to Dublin last Sunday. Photo: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile

Ciarán Whelan

You couldn’t but feel the sense of déjà vu in Croke Park last Sunday as Dublin eventually turned the key in the ignition to accelerate to victory by 16 points.

A history-making nine in-a-row of provincial titles for the Dubs but their eyes were always on summer further down the line this summer.

As the rain hammered down, the Meath players sportingly remained on the pitch for the Delaney Cup presentation. Understandably they looked disconsolate and a glance at the Davin End scoreboard wouldn't have lifted their spirits.

But arguably it was a scoreline that didn't do them justice.

Meath would have been happy with the opening ten minutes. Dublin weren’t building any momentum, while Meath had plenty of possession it was just how they utilized possession that was the start of their downfall.

The Royals hit four balls into their inside forward line early on and got no return. In the slippery conditions Mickey Newman and James Conlon struggled to win possession clean. Shortly after Meath elected to move Newman out the field and it was a tactical alteration that didn’t work.

Their heads were bowed as they stood on the pitch after but are they broken? Can they lift themselves sufficiently to reach the Super 8s?

They face a huge psychological test now as the record of counties beaten by Dublin in Leinster finals is not great.

Michael Darragh Macauley of Dublin in action against Shane Gallagher of Meath during the Leinster SFC final at Croke Park last Sunday. Photo: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
Michael Darragh Macauley of Dublin in action against Shane Gallagher of Meath during the Leinster SFC final at Croke Park last Sunday. Photo: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile

Meath will need greater composure on the line as their manager Andy McEntee can get agitated at times and this could have a negative impact in respect of their tactical changes.

Maybe he was trying the alleged Davy Fitz tactic of rousing his team and supporters but it can be a flawed approach in the modern era.

Much has also been made of the alleged row between McEntee and a journalist from the Meath Chronicle after the game but I think it's been blown out of proportion.

The fact is that modern managers are under immense pressure and it's almost inevitable that some of them will react angrily to being asked questions, especially after taking a beating like Meath did on Sunday.

I don't condone it but I understand how the red mist can descend. I have always believed that the best way to deal with incidents where you know you have overstepped the mark is to pick up the phone, make a call and apologise.

That would almost certainly put the affair to bed.

Meath's video analysis will not be all negative. They did a lot of good things but to state the  obvious, if you butcher so many frees and point-scoring opportunities you are not going to succeed, certainly not against this Dublin outfit .

Dublin are good at absorbing pressure and when their opponents don’t get the scoreboard clicking they can then pick them off, draining the energy of their opposition.

Meath, for example, quelled the influence of both Ciarán Kilkenny and Cormac Costello, no easy feat, but one of the strongest facets of Dublin under Jim Gavin is the broad spread of scorers they have.

This summer alone they had 11 different scorers in the victory over Louth, seven against Kildare and ten last Sunday in Croker.

In total 15 players have contributed to their current Championship tally of 6-64, during their NFL 17 players got their names on the scoresheet.

This underlines the all-round football ability of the Dublin panel.

There were both positives and negatives in Dublin's display.

Dublin will be disappointed with their first half showing, though they led 0-5 to 0-1 their work-rate, support play and general execution was below par.

This was evident also in some of their NFL games this spring and Jim Gavin made reference on a number of occasions at the time to their erratic decisions with their shot options.

Other positives for Dublin were the displays of Cian O’Sullivan, Michael Fitzsimons, Philly McMahon and particularly Jack McCaffrey.

The Flying Doctor from Clontarf is so crucial to Dublin’s game-plan. If opposition set up with extra defenders his pace in give-and-go fashion is one key way of breaking through the defensive shield while if a team goes man-on-man his searing pace means that if he beats his man he is clean through to cause untold damage.

Meath wing-forward Ben Brennan found that out to his expense last Sunday.

Michael Darragh Macauley showed what a warrior he continues to be for the Dubs and despite being in and out of the team in recent years you can put trust in him to deliver.

Dean Rock returned with a bang, kicking four points (one free), to make a statement to his management and it is that competition for places and impact sub strategy Dublin deploy which set them apart from most sides.

I don't subscribe to the theory that Rock and Cormac Costello can’t play together in the Dublin forward line but Jim Gavin likes holding back a scoring forward, so it will be interesting what the ploy is for the Super 8s in terms of starting team selection.

However, the injury to James McCarthy certainly cast a shadow over Dublin’s victory.

While recent reports are that his knee injury is not as serious as initially feared he will still presumably miss most of the Super 8s.

Couple that with the on-going injury-enforced absence of Jonny Cooper and Dublin’s defensive options are growing slimmer all the time.

While Dublin have shown in the past their ability to absorb the absence of key frontline players they’ll most certainly need McCarthy back to full fitness.

Donegal, at the moment, look the most likely to challenge the Dubs and the versatile Ballymun Kickhams man could be crucial if that materialises in other to curb the influence of Michael Murphy.

The match of this weekend should be the clash of Mayo and Armagh in MacHale Park, Castlebar tomorrow night.

I was in Páirc Esler, Newry last weekend for the interesting clash of Mayo and Down.

James Horan’s selection and tactics had a very familiar look to it with Colm Boyle and Andy Moran both starting.

They adopted a high press on Down which gave them an attacking platform but left them exposed in defence at times.

Down, contrary to what I expected, did not adopt a conservative approach and it made for a great contest.

Kieran McGeeney's men will be buoyed by their victory over Monaghan and with Mayo’s record not great in Castlebar don't rule out a shock.

Mayo have also been hit with fresh injuries to Matthew Ruane and Diarmuid O’Connor - both huge losses - so they will be hoping Cillian O’Connor, Donie Vaughan and Séamus O’Shea hit the ground running if they return after injury lay-offs.

I expect Armagh to really test Mayo and with attacking power of Rian O’Neill, who has amassed 2-19 in the Championship to date, Stefan Campbell, Jamie Clarke and the ball-winning ability of Jarlath Óg Burns, Mayo will have to be more secure in defence that they were last weekend.

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