Wednesday 23 January 2019

Ciarán Whelan: The worst thing Longford could do against Dublin is suddenly adopt a defensive strategy

Read Ciarán Whelan every week in The Herald

Longford manager Denis Connerton celebrates after beating Meath
Longford manager Denis Connerton celebrates after beating Meath

Ciarán Whelan

Attention this weekend turns to the Leinster Senior Football Championship and Sunday sees a semi-finals double-header in Croke Park that may not have been predicted at the start of the summer.

Naturally, Dublin take their expected place in the last four but it is the identity of the remaining three counties that has raised an eyebrow or two in the past couple of weeks.

That is not to say that Carlow, Laois and Longford don’t deserve to be where they are – with all three teams having played extremely well to come through some tricky opposition en route to Sunday’s semi-finals.

Carlow, and to a slightly lesser extent, Laois and Longford, have been the story of the Leinster Championship so far and it’s great to see the progress that they are making, using contrasting styles of play to achieve their goals.

From a Dublin perspective, there is very little to be excited about and in many respects, you feel that the supporters are waiting for the Super 8s before they really start to engage with the championship.

That may sound slightly arrogant but when a county dominates a championship as emphatically as Dublin have in Leinster, then it’s inevitable that the focus may drift to sterner challenges down the line.

Of course, that will only apply to the supporters and not the panel, who will stick to the structure and process that has served them so well in recent years.

It will also be an opportunity for some players to cement positions either in the starting 15 or the match-day panel and I would expect Dublin to be as ruthlessly efficient as they were when dismantling Wicklow in the opening round.

While there isn’t that frisson of excitement attached to Sunday’s match from a Dublin perspective, that is still a good complaint for the Dubs to have.

To be honest, they are such an impressive outfit that it is inconceivable that they would get caught at this stage of the year and, in truth, Kerry are the only other county that are similar and tend not to lose games like this.

All the other counties outside the ‘Top 2’ are vulnerable to a certain degree and that has allowed the likes of Carlow, Laois and Longford to make the kind of progress that has helped enliven the championship to date.

Longford will no doubt have a greater sense of anticipation ahead of Sunday’s encounter and as manager Denis Connerton said earlier in the week, he sees Dublin as the Real Madrid of the Gaelic football world.

How Connerton decides to deal with these ‘Galacticos’ will be intriguing and I just hope, from a Longford perspective, that they adhere to the tactics that have served them so well up to now.

The worst thing they could do is to suddenly adopt a defensive style when their strengths lie in a more direct and attacking philosophy.

They have some pace in their team through Dessie Reynolds and players including James McGivney and Darren Gallagher will relish the opportunity of pitting their wits against the All-Ireland champions.  

In my view, it would be hugely detrimental to suddenly alter that attacking style in favour of a template more associated with the likes of Carlow and Fermanagh as two weeks is far too short a time to change tactics in such a significant way.

They need to players to their strengths and while it is highly unlikely to yield a victory, they should still be in a positive frame of mind for the qualifiers.

The first semi-final should be far tighter and I would give Carlow a great chance of prevailing over Laois.

Of course, they will have to be as economical as they were in that noteworthy victory against Kildare and they may well need to be less reliant on Paul Broderick for scores as they were that day.

Defending in the manner that they do is also a tougher assignment in Croke Park than anywhere else and it could be that Laois will have to be extremely patient initially as chances are likely to be at a premium.  

Carlow are so tuned in to their defensive play that it is likely that they will dictate the terms of the game at the outset.

They will look to suffocate Laois and starve both Paul Kingston and Donie Kingston – players who have been hugely influential in the championship this year.

They could well find it difficult to penetrate the heavily-massed Carlow defence initially but it could be that they find enough space later on as the contest evolves to sneak home by a couple of points.

That we are discussing the semi-finals of the Leinster Championship and haven’t referenced Kildare or Meath yet just highlights the current plight of both counties.

Make no mistake about it, both teams deservedly lost to Carlow and Longford respectively and there wasn’t some late sucker-punch such as what happened to Monaghan last Sunday that has prompted their defeats.

The qualifier draw hasn’t been too kind to either team and it’s conceivable that both counties could be gone from the championship by tomorrow evening.

That simply isn’t good enough for counties with the tradition, resources and populations that these two enjoy and Meath’s display against Longford in particular was one of the worst performances that I have seen from them in a long, long time.

From a Leinster Championship perspective, a weak Kildare and Meath is not an ideal scenario but they must acknowledge that they have no divine right to be involved on days like Sunday if they’re not good enough to be so.

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