Saturday 21 September 2019

Colm Keys: 'Finding a way to keep David Clifford quiet will be Dubs' priority'

A task to grapple with: Jim Gavin must decide whether to deploy Jonny Cooper on David Clifford again after the Dublin defender’s red card in the draw. Photo: Sportsfile
A task to grapple with: Jim Gavin must decide whether to deploy Jonny Cooper on David Clifford again after the Dublin defender’s red card in the draw. Photo: Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

It's something of an irony that the team which played with a player less for more than 43 minutes of last week's All-Ireland football final - and that dominated possession for the final 12 minutes after their opponents had scored for the last time - find themselves with the more pressing selection questions this week.

How does Jim Gavin and his management team balance what they saw in the drawn game with what they've known from the experiences of the last seven years?

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Jonny Cooper is a player who Gavin has placed a lot of trust in during that time. Remember Cooper was deemed surplus to requirements by Gavin's predecessor Pat Gilroy, despite captaining his county to an All-Ireland U-21 title in 2010.

But Gavin has brought the best out of the Na Fianna man who is considered one of the senior cabinet members and who sets the right tone for everything they do.

Trusting him to track David Clifford in the drawn final was the right call at the outset. When Cooper switched on to Clifford for the 2018 league match after Clifford, who was making his senior Croke Park debut, had taken Cian O'Sullivan for two points, there was an immediate difference.

But 18 months on and with two championship campaigns behind him Clifford is more accustomed to the rigours of senior football and what's required in the company of hardened defenders like Cooper.

James McCarthy’s could be moved out of defence to midfield for the replay. Photo: Sportsfile
James McCarthy’s could be moved out of defence to midfield for the replay. Photo: Sportsfile

The concession of a penalty, two frees subsequently converted, for which Cooper picked up his two yellow cards, and a point to Clifford when Jack McCaffrey was closest to him was not enough to convince Gavin that his defensive linchpin should be moved to a different role before it was too late. Even after the first yellow card, the trust in Cooper, who had a foot injury earlier in season and missed the Leinster Championship, remained.

When asked if consideration was given to making that switch during his post-match press conference, Gavin answered with a terse 'no.'

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The conventional thinking is that Mick Fitzsimons, who picked up Clifford after Cooper's departure just before half-time the last day, will continue in that role. But the optics of their defensive leader having to yield to Kerry's brightest star in this way is something that Dublin will have given consideration to.

Dublin's defensive shape and the personnel who form it doesn't have to undergo a major overhaul but with the same space and his eye 'in', Clifford is unlikely to be as benevolent again.

If Cooper's role is to be realigned, then it is likely to mirror the role Cian O'Sullivan has fulfilled so well, when he hasn't been injured, since 2015, providing cover for the full-back line that wasn't always there the last day.

Cooper has past experience of such a role. O'Sullivan remains a concern ahead of the replay and the risk in starting him may be too great.

Fully fit, O'Sullivan's recall would be their first preference but without him Eoin Murchan, who came off the bench to good effect for the closing quarter in the drawn game, is most likely to deputise with a possible commission to track Seán O'Shea, releasing James McCarthy to midfield at Michael Darragh Macauley's expense.

Discipline for Dublin has to be a concern. Cooper's dismissal was the fifth successive All-Ireland final that they had a player either black-carded or red-carded, following on from James McCarthy (2016 black), Cooper (2016 black), and John Small with double yellow cards in 2017 and 2018. Small was yellow-carded in the drawn game and left the field with a hand injury.

Dublin's concession of 1-16 (19 points) nine days ago is not their highest since their post-Donegal 2014 transformation to a more defensively conscious team. Taking out Roscommon's 2-16 in the last of the Super 8s games last year when there was nothing at stake, the most in championship games that they have conceded is 21 points (2-15 v Fermanagh in 2015).

Threshold

Cork (1-17 this year), Kildare (1-17 in the 2017 Leinster final) and Kerry 2-14 in the 2016 All-Ireland semi-final) all put 20 points on them in that time.

In addition, Kerry have hit the 20-point threshold twice in the league since 2014, the 2017 league final (0-20) and this year's league encounter in Tralee (1-18). But it's what Kerry left behind them that gives the greatest cause for concern. When Dublin had a full complement their opponents still created three clear-cut goal chances.

Gavin and his management team are no strangers to big calls between drawn and replayed games.

For the 2016 All-Ireland final replay against Mayo, Fitzsimons came in for Davy Byrne, Paddy Andrews displaced Macauley with Paul Flynn moving to midfield and Bernard Brogan was left off from the start with Paul Mannion coming in. Brogan hasn't started a championship game for Dublin since.

This time, the options don't seem as plentiful for Gavin with some uncertainty over O'Sullivan. But getting the Clifford conundrum right will have been a priority.

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