Sunday 19 November 2017

Analysing Eamonn Fitzmaurice's three examples of Dublin's 'hard edge and cynicism'

Dublin’s Cormac Costello tussles with Kerry’s Brian O Beaglaoích during last year’s All-Ireland SFC semi-final. Photo: Sportsfile
Dublin’s Cormac Costello tussles with Kerry’s Brian O Beaglaoích during last year’s All-Ireland SFC semi-final. Photo: Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

When Frank Roche of The Herald picked up the phone to Paul Curran, the former Dublin footballer and The Herald columnist, last week, his mission was to source an overview on the abundance of attacking talent that lies at Jim Gavin's disposal.

With 16 credible candidates for six positions, it was an angle worth exploring. But in the midst of their conversation, it meandered back to Tralee and the approach that Curran felt the home side had taken.

Negative, defensive, abandoned values… "as bad if not worse than what we've seen from the Tyrones and the Armaghs in the last decade".

The game's most successful county were bringing it to another level and should be ashamed, contended Curran.

A few days later Philly McMahon's expectation that Kerry would bring a physical approach to Sunday's League final hardly constituted a surprise but it fitted into a growing sense in Kerry that some sort of campaign was at play, just as Mayo sensed something similar between the drawn and replayed All-Ireland finals.

It's interesting to look back on Curran's comments now in the context of Fitzmaurice's response at Tuesday evening's press conference.

Maybe the inference was there but at no stage did he specifically reference a 'physical' or 'hard-edged' approach, the words that triggered the Kerry's manager pitch for "balance". His focus was tactical.

Still Fitzmaurice, who had resisted a response to Curran in his post-match interview on Sunday, was keen to lay down a marker.

He didn't seek to paint his own team in whiter than white colours but was keen to stress, based on examples provided, that Dublin can dish it out too when they feel they need to, and that needed referencing in a narrative that he described as "worrying".

Looking back at the three snapshots Fitzmaurice chose at his press briefing this week, there are strong cases made for each.

2011 All-Ireland final v Kerry, Declan O'Sullivan 'taken out'

No question, Ger Brennan had his elbow up when the Kerry playmaker was met with it flush early in the second half, presenting the Kingdom with a free to bring parity.

O'Sullivan required treatment for a facial injury that had drawn blood but was back within a few minutes.

The only defence for Brennan was that O'Sullivan was already going to ground, courtesy of a nudge by Michael Darragh Macauley into his back. But the height of Brennan's elbow could have prompted more than the yellow he got.

As it happened O'Sullivan, who may have had concussive symptoms, was a key figure in the goal that brought Dublin back to life, losing possession and then missing a tackle on Kevin McManamon, who slipped him to score.

Both O'Sullivan and Brennan have retired - more than half of the 37 players involved that day have moved on.

But as evidence, it must be deemed admissible.

Declan O'Sullivan, Kerry, in action against Ger Brennan

2013 All-Ireland final v Mayo - Dubs 'tactically foul' to 'see out' finish

Just prior to Bernard Brogan scoring his second goal, Eoghan O'Gara hit the deck awkwardly in a tussle with Keith Higgins, pulling his hamstring. A few minutes later Rory O'Carroll delivered a heavy hit on Enda Varley, concussing himself in the process.

By then, Dublin had used their quota of five substitutes. Both players remained on the field, providing a presence but little else.

Dublin were stretched but when Brennan kicked a point to put them into a three-point lead, the emphasis was on preservation by any means.

From the kick-out Darren Daly dragged down an opponent and was yellow-carded; in the next play Brogan halted Aidan O'Shea to prevent further momentum.

Another free was converted by Cillian O'Connor when it was brought forward.

And on it went. When Stephen Cluxton restored the three-point lead, effectively the winning point, McManamon pulled down Lee Keegan to the ground on 69 minutes, the most cynical act of all in that closing period.

Brennan fouled Ger Cafferkey and then pushed him in the back, yielding a yellow card, Dublin's third in seven minutes, but crucially eating up more time.

The free count favoured Mayo 9-3 in that closing 10-minute period including added time.

Read more here:

And while the interventions of Macauley and Paul Flynn, and most crucially the precision of Cluxton's kick-outs in that closing period, did more to lock the game down, Fitzmaurice's bone of contention about how Dublin "saw the game out" had merit.

The nature of the finale took place against the backdrop of Dublin manager Gavin's pre-match comment that he would be "loath to think that anyone would say this Dublin team are cynical. I would take a step back if that was the case".

Yet Gavin's immediate post-match thoughts instead focused on the refereeing of Joe McQuillan, claiming his side had to play the referee as well as Mayo.

He attributed Dublin's persistent fouling at the end to frustration with McQuillan, who awarded Mayo 32 frees to the Dubs' 12. But any analysis reflected that most of McQuillan's decisions were correct.

"That free-count is just not acceptable. Anybody here can ask me are Dublin a cynical team and we're not. We play the game with certain values in the squad and we play the game the way we believe it should be played, and to have that number (of frees)…" added Gavin, who stressed that it had been a recurring theme throughout the season.

Great champions as they have become, however, for those final few minutes those words didn't quite square with their actions.

2016 All-Ireland semi-final v Kerry - Brian O Beaglaoich 'wrestled to ground and basically choked'

The game was in its dying embers when Brian O Beaglaoích, a Kerry substitute, went to make a run up the Hogan Stand side.

He was halted in his tracks by Dublin substitute Cormac Costello who, not content with just halting momentum, put the U-21 star into a headlock and brought him to the ground to ensure he'd go no further. As an example of the cynicism that prompted the black card in the first place, there probably wasn't a better one.

Read more here:

Irish Independent

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