Thursday 22 March 2018

Ciarán Whelan: Handing the ball to Dublin is just not good enough

Read Ciarán Whelan's column exclusively in The Herald every Friday

Stephen Cluxton of Dublin during the Leinster GAA Football Senior Championship Semi-Final match between Dublin and Meath at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Stephen Cluxton of Dublin during the Leinster GAA Football Senior Championship Semi-Final match between Dublin and Meath at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Ciarán Whelan

The old adage of “control the controllables” is commonly used in the world of sports psychology and I would suspect it is something that regularly crops up in the Dublin dressing-room these days.

There are a lot of factors that are outside the control of a sports teams but the one aspect that can be controlled is your own team’s performance.

Cruising through another Leinster Championship is at this stage a futile exercise for the current Dublin team, but it is what it is and nobody can change that. Dublin can only approach every game with the focus on their own performance, mentally and physically.

Meath were hugely disappointing in their approach to the game last weekend. I got a sense in the first half that they had more ability to test the Dublin team, particularly in their defence, but their tactical set-up in conceding every Dublin kick-out essentially meant it became a damaged limitation exercise.

There is an element of ‘damned if you do and damned if don’t’ in terms for defensive structures and I accept that.

However, most competent teams now try get a balance between extra defensive cover and pressing the opposition of their kick-out where possible.

With Pádraig Harnan employed as a sweeper, the Meath management accepted the loss of the possession on every Dublin kick-out.

This meant that Meath were never going to gain any momentum or pin Dublin into their own half for any period of the game.

After each of the eight good points they kicked in that first half, they basically handed Dublin back the football rather than try force Dublin to kick a 50/50 possession and try get a foothold in the game.

There is no reason that they could not have pushed up on the kick-outs and had a process in place for a midfielder or half-forward to drop back and pick up Harnan’s direct marker once they had lost possession in midfield.

The downside from a Dublin perspective is the lack of intensity, which is an element of the game outside of their control. When Jim Gavin sat down to review last Sunday’s game, there will have been small elements of Dublin’s play that he will look to improve on.

Some of the basic errors came from having too much time on the ball, which can lead to a somewhat casual execution of shooting or passing.

The intensity of battle is something that is difficult to recreate on the training field. The physicality and reduced time you have in possession is only harnessed through competitive games.

While Dublin will be back on the training field this weekend, some of their potential future opponents will be back in action in the two Ulster semi-final replays, where the intensity levels will be firmly switched on.

All four teams – Cavan, Tyrone, Donegal and Monaghan – will benefit in the longer term with an extra game this weekend that will prepare them better for the All-Ireland Series, win or lose.

Tyrone do not lose replays and will not concede three goals again anytime soon so that makes Cavan’s task that bit harder.

Donegal and Monaghan is more of a difficult match to call. Both these teams know each other inside out and have developed a rivalry in recent years that is threatening to boil over.

Last weekend’s drawn game was a full-blooded contest that kept the neutral fully engrossed.

Expect more fireworks tomorrow evening once again. Both teams have scope for improvement but Donegal look better positioned to enhance some basic elements of their performance.

Giving Monaghan eight points from placed balls is a worrying trend of sloppy fouling, following on from the concession of seven scoreable frees against Fermanagh in their previous game.

Rory Gallagher must rectify this element of the Donegal game and make Monaghan work harder for their scores.

Michael Murphy had an off day from placed balls last weekend and you would expect that his strike-rate will be up near his high standards tomorrow night. 

Malachy O’Rourke deserves massive credit for keeping a freshness and hunger in his Monaghan team.

After their defeat to Tyrone in last year’s All Ireland SFC quarter-final, he faced a tough task in rejuvenating his team to go to the well once again.

Monaghan’s ball-retention skills are top class and with their experience of playing Donegal, they bring great width to their game and avoid carrying the ball into the tackle.

His biggest concern will be the concession of goal chances and Donegal breached their rear guard with relative ease at times last weekend by pulling their full-back line out of position. 

I expect Donegal might just have enough to come out on top but whether they have the spark that brought Sam home to the hills of Donegal, I am still not so sure yet. Time will tell.

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