Tuesday 16 January 2018

Colm Keys: Blues' power play takes it to next level

Colm Keys

Colm Keys

So much for their hunger being sated last September. So much for indiscipline being the rock that they will perish on. So much for the inactivity so far this season of some of their main players. So much for the All-Ireland champions deciding not to switch the 'on' button so early in the championship and try to time their run to align it with the middle part of the season.

Every reason you thought could sidetrack Dublin from defending their title in the weeks and months ahead went up in smoke for the 70-odd minutes that they pummelled Louth so comprehensively yesterday.

This was a Louth team that finished fourth in Division 2 of the NFL, beating Meath comfortably in the last round after draws with Galway and Derry and reputable efforts against Tyrone and Kildare in defeat. Esteemed company to be keeping. But for far too long here they looked like they were playing a different game.

All-Ireland football champions don't normally to send out such a strong signal in the opening game of their defence. Not after an eight-week spell of inactivity.

But Pat Gilroy sent out the strongest signal of all during the week when he announced this team. That signal was directed at his players more than opponents or the general public. With all 15 starters involved in last September's epic All-Ireland success, it was clear that any jersey given in will be hard earned. There will be no soft graduation for the next generation.

It was hard to disagree with the observations of Louth manager Peter Fitzpatrick that this Dublin team is the most physically complete and athletically tuned team he has seen in Gaelic football.

Across the decades, the game has seen quantum leaps by specific teams. Dublin in the 1970s brought a new athletic dimension which Kerry quickly followed. By the turn of the millennium, Armagh had positioned themselves to redefine what more muscle mass could achieve. In between, the Clare hurlers had opened eyes as to what communal sacrifice could bring. Now this Dublin side looks to have pushed the boundaries that bit further.

No team is more likely to make a stronger case for 13-a-side inter-county matches. They cover ground faster, they hit harder and more often, and keep going for longer than any team in the past. Now none of these assumptions -- for that is all they are and can be -- mean that they are the best around. Power and athleticism doesn't guarantee that. But it's going a long, long way in the modern game. For Fitzpatrick, it was like being confronted by "a machine". He was, by his own admission "gobsmacked" by what he saw from the champions. At one stage he admitted to looking out on the field and coming to the conclusion that Dublin must have had 20 players out there!

"I am in football a long time; it is the most professional team I have seen. I have a few strong lads at the moment and every time they went to go for a ball there was two or three Dublin fellas around them," he noted.

Dublin's opening goal had just about every positive element of their game distilled into the time it took the transfer from one end of the field to the other. From Philly McMahon's block on Paddy Keenan, to Alan Brogan's carefully weighted pass for brother Bernard, who collected on the run and finished at pace, there was an ominous feel to it, not just for Louth but for everyone else.

Dilute

Pat Gilroy was left with the task of trying to dilute the impression and pointed to a high concession rate of frees. But really, referee Eddie Kinsella was as much in sympathy with the underdog as the rest of us were at facing such power and athleticism. Why else would he find fault with James McCarthy's perfectly timed and executed shoulder on Ronan Carroll for Darren Clarke's early free? Every time one of Dublin's six starting forwards had possession there was menace in their movement.

"If you look at the Dublin forwards, people were asking me 'who is going to mark A, B and C'. They have six top forwards. Normally when you are playing an inter-county team, they have two or three forwards at most, Dublin had six fantastic forwards there today."

Their use of the foot pass was central to their exploitation of space to stretch Louth from sideline to sideline. For Bernard Brogan's point two minutes into the second half to make it 2-13 to 0-3, the three preceding passes were all with the foot. It was a delight to watch.

Gilroy would observe afterwards that they have run up these scores before and have been bottled up in their next match. The All-Ireland semi-final against Donegal last August springs to mind. Ugly as it was, it may be the only way to stop them in the months ahead.

Irish Independent

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