Tuesday 12 December 2017

Alan Brogan: Kerry loss was inevitable, but it could also be instructive and productive

Read Alan Brogan exclusively in The Herald this summer

Alan Brogan

JIM Gavin is such a shrewd operator that part of me was wondering if he added another two years to his term as Dublin manager just to stop talk building during the summer about whether he’s going to stay on.

He’s so successful and so synonymous with this golden era for Dublin football that that sort of talk would have been a major focus in the media and among fans when it started and therefore, a potential distraction.

Imagine Dublin going into an All-Ireland final and all the fuss about it being his last game as manager?

Could he walk away with the greatest strike rate ever?

A three-in-a-row? Four in five years?

This stops all that.

And it means that Jim is free to walk away or stay for as long as he wants.

Either way, it’s a smart approach to take ahead of a summer Dublin start in the entirely novel position of not being League champions.

The loss to Kerry was, in some ways, inevitable.

In time, we might come to see it as instructive. Productive even.

Dublin had shown signs earlier on in the League that maybe things weren’t as perfect as they seemed.

They sprung jail a couple of times, got draws when they shouldn’t have. But always had the quality and experience to avoid losing.

So the defeat to Kerry was coming.

And I think part of Jim was probably glad or at least relieved that it happened.

It gives him the opportunity to go back a bit sterner with the lads, which is no harm in the context of a defining summer for this team’s legacy.

It’s only logical that when you’re winning games all the time it’s harder for management to pull guys up. Try telling a fella that hasn’t lost a match in two years that he needs to get his tackle count up!

Plus, you don’t see the cracks starting to appear in the foundations when you’re always lifting trophies to the sky.

Or at least, it’s much easier to ignore them.

It’s only when you lose a match that management and players delve into why it happened and what wasn’t going well and without noticing anything seismic, I’m sure there were some trends over the League.

Small things.

Dublin’s football was still very good. They got good scores and scored big.

But things that are almost subconscious, like tracking a man or contesting a breaking ball, can be the victims of success.

When you’re hungry, when you’re ravenous, they’re the things you do automatically.

All it takes is for two or three fellas to drop that level of intensity and you’re in trouble against a team of comparable quality.

The unseen work. The off-the-ball movement no-one notices or pays any attention to. That’s the stuff that wins you Championships.

Lads are only flesh and bones too and that level of success if bound to bring a bit of complacency.

It’s just human nature.

Obviously, the most pressing area for improvement from the Kerry match is their concession rate.

Kerry scored 20 points that day, which is probably the only way you’re going to beat Dublin at the moment.

If Dublin keep a team to 1-11 or 1-12, they’re almost certain to score enough to win any match at the moment so the need to tighten up is both immediate and obvious.

And Jim is cute enough to know that change is a good thing, even if he doesn’t get forced into it too often.

The only big loss I had under Jim was the 2014 semi-final to Donegal.

Off the back of that result, he completely changed the way we were playing.

He altered the tactical approach entirely.

When Jim came in, he was all about attacking football and taking teams on, out-scoring them and overrunning them.

After Donegal, he realised how vulnerable that made us to a team as well managed as they were. So from going man-to-man all over the pitch, Cian O’Sullivan (right) stayed back and protected the ‘D’, effectively giving us a sweeper.

It was a pretty radical change for us and far more significant than anything he needs to alter now.

But management will examine every aspect of Dublin’s play now because you don’t know what’s not working until the chips are down and you’re in a big Championship game and at that stage, it could be too late.

For the players, it’s not the easiest time of year to be a Dublin footballer.

Jim gave the lads the guts of five weeks off around the club Championship, which is more than I can ever remember getting!

With no semi-final of the League this year, it gave him that opportunity but I think it was a wise move too.

The lads have been on the road a long time now and have been to September most of those years.

So he was obviously very cognisant that guys were starting to tire a little bit.

He demands a lot from his players but Jim has always been very mindful to make sure guys are getting adequate rest and  time away from Dublin football.

Lads will be coming back after the club Championship in different states of mind and fitness.

It takes a week to get back into it and then there’s only a fortnight until the first round of the Championship, so it’s going to be hard for fellas to stake a claim in the team if they haven’t already in the League.

But a strength of this Dublin team is that they drive each other on. And they will need to this year.

Despite what fellas might say, three-in-a-row is a huge pot of gold to be chasing after. You need something like that. Some angle. Some unsaid motivation.

For guys that have three or four All-Irelands, just simply winning another one might not provide the same levels of motivation so it’s useful if you can get another thing to go at.

It won’t be mentioned inside the camp but guys are self-aware enough to know that if they win three-in-a-row this September, they’ll be ranked alongside the greatest teams of all time.

If I was still playing, I’d be making damn sure I was right for that.

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