Monday 14 October 2019

Ciarán Whelan: 'Dublin's experience and hurt from their display last time out can drive them to victory'

Jim Gavin will use bench better and champs will be more disciplined this time

Stephen Cluxton of Dublin dives to his right to save Paul Geaney's penalty in the 13th minute of the All-Ireland SFC final at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Stephen Cluxton of Dublin dives to his right to save Paul Geaney's penalty in the 13th minute of the All-Ireland SFC final at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Ciarán Whelan

Fasten your seatbelts we could be in for some turbulence! The drawn All-Ireland SFC final concluded in a frenzy of activity as Dublin chased down Kerry's slender lead - and I think tomorrow's replay will continue in that fashion.

Having reviewed the last encounter both camps will feel they could have finished the job off two weeks' ago but will have been happy for the second chance as there is room for improvement by both counties.

Dublin were too predictable in their set-up and in the game plan they tried to implement, while Kerry were more innovative and Peter Keane and his management earned great kudos.

The Kingdom looked more organised and cohesive as a unit and did a very good job on curbing Dublin's key threats.

That said, the dismissal of Jonny Cooper had a major bearing on how Dublin played and they deserve huge credit for their intensity and hunger towards the close of the game to force a replay and had the scoring chances in that period to secure victory.

Let's take a look at those areas for improvement.

DEFENSIVE STRUCTURE

This Kerry attack is by far the most dangerous that Dublin have come up against in years.

Kerry have a lot of superb individual footballers who also combine intelligently, making for a very potent mix.

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That makes Dublin's defensive job more difficult and different.

While other counties have one or two, maybe three, key forwards and Dublin can focus on them specifically, with Kerry you have an awful lot more to consider.

Dublin were lucky they weren't punished more in the drawn encounter for finding themselves one on one at the back, especially with so much space in front of the Kerry forwards.

In the opening half before Jack McCaffrey's goal the Kingdom had spurned an array of scoring chances with Paul Geaney having one goal attempt cleared off the line by James McCarthy, while Stephen Cluxton also made a great save to deny the same player from the penalty spot.

Add in the number of wides Kerry kicked from situations that they'd usually convert.

Dublin looked exposed and a bit panicky during this spell and will need stronger protection for their full-back line tomorrrow.

I'd argue in favour of Dublin employed a sweeper or creating a constant plus-one at the back with Cooper handed the role.

MIDFIELD

This is the area where there is the greatest room for improvement for Dublin, they played second fiddle to Kerry in the drawn game and were strangely passive in how they went about their business.

The Dubs were scrambling and on the back foot at times, the knock-on effect being that the inside forward line was not well served with early direct ball. Especially when the Kingdom had the numerical advantage they could clog up the scoring zone and force Dublin to shoot from distances and positions that are not their norm.

Dublin's engine room will need to be a full steam tomorrow.

The stats don't lie. The most influential midfielder on view was David Moran and the statistical tale of the tape reads in terms of possession as Moran (22), Brian Fenton (16), Jack Barry (15) and Michael Darragh Macauley (12).

Kerry's kick-out strategy was more enterprising that Dublin's in the sense they had several strategies to curb Fenton's influence - one off Dublin kick-outs and another off their own keeper Shane Ryan.

Dublin did prosper at one stage of the opening half when scoring 1-2, with McCaffrey getting that superb goal in a move initiated by Brian Howard's incredible fetch from a long Cluxton kick-out.

However, Howard dug Dublin out of a hole in the middle sector with 21 possessions and a huge work rate.

I can see Jim Gavin and his management making adjustments by moving James McCarthy to partner Fenton and Eoin Murchan coming into the defence.

KEY MATCH-UPS

I think Kerry will have been very happy with how their match-ups went the last day but expect Dublin to make some alterations.

Michael Fitzsimons is likely to pick up where he left off the last day by marking David Clifford.

Clifford is such a talented, well balanced footballer that just quelling his influence is a great day's work.

I have already written about how I think Cooper should be freed up to act in a sweeping role. And if McCarthy is moved to midfield Murchan is likely to come into the defence, maybe onto Stephen O'Brien with John Small, if fully fit following his hand injury, picking up the pivot of the Kerry attack, Seán O'Shea.

There is a caveat with all this, though.

If Kerry elect to start with Tommy Walsh, or when they do bring him in, Dublin will have to have a plan to the ready with McCarthy possibly required to now track Walsh.

From a Kerry perspective they will look at the influence McCaffrey exerted last time.

If they manage to stymie the Clontarf man they will go a long way towards victory. Referee Conor Lane might needs eyes in the back of his head for this one!

Kerry though are likely to come with some curve ball.

They will look at that early period when they missed opportunities and look to plant early doubt in the Dublin full-back line.

REACTION ON SIDELINE AND BENCH OPTIONS

Dublin were slow to make changes last time and left it very late to introduce Cormac Costello and Diarmuid Connolly, both potential match-winners.

While subs Connolly and Kevin McManamon, among others, worked hard in the final phases to force key turnovers arguably Kerry got greater impact off the bench through Killian Spillane, Tommy Walsh and Jack Sherwood.

These sides looked so evenly balanced and now have a great knowledge of each other that it could go to the wire. In fact don't rule out extra time.

The possibility of extra time has to come into management's thinking with regard to their match-day panel of 26. For that reason, but not that reason alone, I think Bernard Brogan could be included in Dublin's plans.

If it comes to the crunch I think Brogan is the type of player that Dublin would need to turn in the white heat of battle. Croke Park will not be a theatre for a relative rookie at that juncture.

The Cian O'Sullivan situation is a very tricky one.

If he had been fit and doing well all summer he would be back at the heart of the Dublin defence reading the play, cutting out options, helping out his fellow defenders and initiating attacks.

However, owing to his long-term hamstring issues he hasn't started a game for Dublin in two months, their opening Super 8 victory over Cork in mid-July.

He did come on as a sub, for Macauley, in the semi-final victory over Mayo as Dublin looked to lock down their defence.

Can I see O'Sullivan starting tomorrow? I can't but if he should be in a much better place to play a role tomorrow than he looked when he jogged slowly out the tunnel prior to the drawn encounter.

THE VERDICT

It's a bit of the Night before Christmas feel to this.

The drawn game was an epic duel of players pushing themselves to the limit. Okay there were plenty of mistakes but it's a highly physical contact sport and that all adds to the rich tapestry.

Dublin will look to be more disciplined on this occasion while not limiting their physical approach. There was an improvement in that facet of their game in the last five minutes the last day. The seemed to suddenly realise the starkness of their crown slipping.

I expect Dublin to improve more than Kerry from the draw, they will have to take some gambles over the course of the day but ultimately I feel their experience and hurt from their display last time out can drive them to victory.

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