Tuesday 12 December 2017

Dublin's 10 steps to edge of greatness

Can the most complete performance of the championship football season so far lead to the end of Dublin's 16-year All-Ireland drought?

Their seven-point victory over Tyrone was the most important victory Dublin football has put together since the 1995 All-Ireland final over the same opponents and it has entitled them to believe that they can make the step up over the next six weeks.

Inevitably, the talk will be of a dream Dublin versus Kerry final, which plays into the hands of Mayo and Donegal, but the best All-Ireland quarter-final displays have generally been followed up with September success -- Kerry in 2009 and Tyrone in '08, with Dublin on the receiving end on both occasions.

We look at the 10 main reasons why Dublin have put themselves in their strongest position yet.

1 -- The team comes first

Twice in the second half last Saturday night Bernard Brogan found himself in possession close to the Hogan Stand sideline at the Hill 16 end.

From similar positions in the dying minutes against Cork in the 2010 semi-final, Brogan botched kicks off his left foot from similar positions. This time he stayed patient, kept his head up and flighted passes for first Paul Flynn and then Barry Cahill to score points.

Earlier, his intended pass to Diarmuid Connolly over Conor Gormley was weighted too lightly but 12 months ago, or even two months ago, Brogan might have gone it alone.

2 -- Strength in the tackle

By our calculations, depending on what classifies a turnover, Dublin won the ball back over 20 times from the defensive squeeze they placed on Tyrone opponents in possession.

Twelve of those tackles or 'moments of pressure' eventually led to scores -- seven in the first half alone when Dublin's intensity was at its highest.

From Bryan Cullen ripping the ball away from Colm Cavanagh for Flynn to set up Brogan for the early goal chance, which set up Stephen Cluxton's opening '45', to Flynn's dispossession of Philip Jordan for Brogan's last point, Dublin generally made those turnovers count.

3 -- A system they now trust

It would be wrong to label a team that scores 19 of their 22 points from play in an All-Ireland quarter-final obsessively defensive. They're not.

But they are obsessive about adhering to a system that, ultimately, has served them very well and they have maintained the discipline to stick with it.

Dropping players back into the area behind their midfield allows Ger Brennan, their nominal centre-back, to be the loose man to attack the ball and pick up the pieces when the ball breaks down and get movement out of defence starting again.

Less than 14 months ago, after Wexford forced them to extra-time in a Leinster quarter-final, the system was temporarily ditched with damaging consequences against Meath. It was quickly restored and Pat Gilroy has been in a position of strength since.

4 -- The right sideline calls

It took a lot of nerve to displace Paul Conlon, so impressive in his last two games as Philly McMahon's replacement, for last Saturday's All-Ireland quarter-final.

But the management couldn't ignore what was unfolding night after night in training as Cian O'Sullivan gave them every reason to select him. His pace and tenacity demanded it, but it took some conviction to go ahead and do it, risking consequences if it didn't come off.

Similarly, Cahill's selection as a roving forward would have raised eyebrows beforehand, but his contribution was immense. Overall, Gilroy won the tactical battle with Mickey Harte quite convincingly.

5 -- Diarmuid Connolly's coming of age

Gilroy was rich in his praise of his St Vincent's clubmate after one of the most impressive individual displays of the summer, but managing Connolly has not always been easy, despite his level of application this year.

Twice in the last five years Connolly has left the Dublin squad in mid-season and when he was hauled off in his last two games, including the first half of the Leinster final, a voice in his head might have tried to convince him to go again.

But he remained committed and unleashed a display of accuracy and style that so many knew was in him.

6 -- It starts with No 1

Normal service was resumed on Saturday night, with the Cluxton kick-out again helping Dublin to maximise possession from restarts.

After Kildare's work in disrupting one of Dublin's prime assets and Wexford following on to a degree, Cluxton was back to his imperious best with his deliveries to all the right areas and personnel.

His timing is difficult to defend against and with the added impetus of his scoring from frees and '45s', Dublin know they have reliability in this field again.

7 -- Strength in depth

All the post-match Dublin reaction focused on one thing -- the quality of the internal games they had played in the four weeks since the Leinster final.

Gilroy was adamant that those games honed Dublin's game to a perfect pitch. It was a page straight out of Brian Cody's training manual in Kilkenny. If you have the quality at training, use it to your advantage.

Nothing beats games. With Cork, Dublin have the strongest squad.

8 -- Insatiable hunger

None of these Dublin players have ever played in an All-Ireland football final and you could see the desire in every move they made on Saturday. Cluxton is in his 11th season, Alan Brogan his 10th, Cahill and Cullen their ninth.

For them, the chances are running out and they'll sense that they might never get a better one. Whatever has to be done, they'll do it.

9 -- Superior strength and conditioning

"We couldn't match Dublin for pace, power and energy," admitted Tyrone's Sean Cavanagh on Saturday.

They couldn't, and that's a tribute to the extensive work Dublin have done over the last 18 months since Gilroy called the first early-morning January session.

All those trips across icy city roads will have been worth it only if their ultimate ambition is realised, but, so far, the work has served them well.

Dublin's link with DCU has provided expertise, guidance and facilities that possibly no other inter-county team can match.

10 -- The future is blue

Dublin are still in contention for five of the six mainstream All-Ireland titles that Gaelic games offers at inter-county level. It's an incredible onslaught and is creating a rising tide that continues to lift all boats.

Only the U-21 footballers have so far fallen -- the senior and minor hurlers and footballers and the U-21 hurlers are all preparing for All-Ireland semi-finals.

What a lift that is to the games in the city.

Irish Independent

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