Saturday 16 December 2017

Dubs' goal rush risks opening the floodgates

Gilroy's men must revert to winning ugly to shore up leaking defence

Jason Doherty of Mayo scores his side's second goal in Sunday's league clash when the Dublin defence leaked three goals.
Jason Doherty of Mayo scores his side's second goal in Sunday's league clash when the Dublin defence leaked three goals.
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

The reigning Footballer of the Year, whose form has showed no signs abating in 2011, gets delayed on important business in the USA, misses his first game in almost two years and his colleagues shoot their biggest score since Westmeath were ruthlessly put to the sword in the 2009 Leinster championship.

It should have been a striking footnote in the evolution of this Dublin team.

The attack has clearly more than just the one string to its bow, after all -- the first five games of the league have proved that with a goal rush that has brought their tally to 23 for the season from league, O'Byrne Cup and Shield activity.

That said, the assumption of responsibility up front by others in Bernard Brogan's absence was furthest from Pat Gilroy's mind as he dissected a performance that eventually produced a result to preserve the only 100pc record in the Allianz Football League.

Using strong language to describe the nature of the defending, Gilroy didn't put a tooth in it.

"It's pure laziness. It's pure laziness," he repeated. "That's what it's down to. If you don't track people, they'll kill you and we didn't and when we do that that's what happens. It's pure laziness.

"You can talk about systems or whatever, but if you don't work hard then that's what happens. It's a good lesson and it's the right time of the year to get it.

On the face of it the manager shouldn't be too concerned. When it comes to picking a championship team, provided every one is fit, it's quite conceivable that none of the first seven players on duty against Mayo in Croke Park on Sunday will feature.

Not one, not even Ger Brennan -- a particular favourite of the management for his abrasive approach -- is even close to being a certain pick for Dublin's first championship date in June.

When the forensic team moves in to analyse how things fell apart, Brennan may have to put his hand up for not continuing to chase Jason Doherty for Monaghan's first goal, while Sean Murray's novice status as a full-back was central to the other two.

Rory O'Carroll, Mick Fitzsimons, Philip McMahon, Cian O'Sullivan and Kevin Nolan formed the core of Dublin's defence as they picked up the pieces from last summer's five-goal Leinster semi-final rout by Meath, a defence that conceded an average of just over 14 points in the five games they played up to their dramatic exit in the All-Ireland semi-final against Cork.

So far, only Fitzsimons has featured regularly, while McMahon and Nolan only returned last weekend.

In seven league matches last spring they conceded just 7-72 and in three of those games restricted opponents to single-figure points tallies. The average rate of concession in last year's campaign was just over 12 points; in this campaign it has jumped considerably to 16 and a half points per game.

So after the surrender of a 14-point lead to Mayo, it should be no surprise to see Dublin revert to the system that made them so hard to beat, but so difficult to watch, last season.

They remain difficult to beat -- but only because their focus has switched to scoring more, not conceding less.

The selection of natural defenders in attack and the withdrawal of half-backs to deeper positions has been largely dispensed with the season, up to now.

Naturally, Dublin have tried to evolve this season just as Tyrone did after 2003. And they have done so with a more expansive style that has allowed more players to operate closer to the opposing goal.

Of course Croke Park is a factor and that can be seen from the divergence of scoring in Dublin's five games to date. It is a point that Gilroy has consistently made and is borne out by the statistics.

The Spring Series hasn't just brought the crowds out in greater numbers than usual -- it has left the floodgates slightly ajar. In Dublin's three games to date at headquarters their average rate of concession there has been just under 19 points per game: 1-15 against Cork, 0-16 against Kerry and last Sunday's 3-13 against Mayo.

In contrast, their trips north for games on slower tracks in Clones and Armagh against Monaghan and Armagh have seen them cough up just 1-9 and 1-11 respectively, an average of 13 points. That's a difference of almost six points.

Positive as the Spring Series has been, it has given Dublin some bad habits that they thought they were shut of at the end of last season.

Gilroy inherited a team that had become cavalier in its approach and in his first year that didn't change much. But last year winning ugly was a style that served them well.

Goals have kept them ahead of the Division 1 posse so far, but the next four teams in the division have all conceded considerably less than them.

They may have to become a team whose priority is to concede less not score more again.

Irish Independent

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