Saturday 19 October 2019

Colm Keys: 'Tyrone's success shows that Dublin are struggling to find answers to direct questions'


Dublin manager Jim Gavin. Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Dublin manager Jim Gavin. Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

When Aidan O'Shea went through Mayo's 2015 Connacht Championship like a wrecking ball from full-forward and followed it up with another destructive display on the edge of the Donegal square in the All-Ireland quarter-final, plundering a goal that was textbook for direct football, his fusion of power and precision looked almost unmarkable that summer.

With Dublin's air defences not considered the most secure, the thinking was that he could inflict some damage on them in the subsequent semi-final.

It was also thought that Rory O'Carroll, who had held him scoreless in the league earlier that year, would again pick him up. But that task instead fell to Philly McMahon who the Dublin management rightly felt had more physical qualities for the type of threat that O'Shea posed.

When they locked horns in that semi-final McMahon had the help of a defensive cavalry each time O'Shea got possession as they rushed to his aid and got numbers around him.

Dublin were waiting for him and the tactic quickly became redundant.

Too often during that semi-final, and the subsequent replay, O'Shea was forced under ball which left him too static to make anything from possession, while Mayo were clearly frustated by the lack of frees awarded to O'Shea.

It was a familiar theme after Kerry's heavy 2016 league final defeat to Dublin when their manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice called some of the tackling on Kieran Donaghy in the square "rape and pillage."

But like O'Shea, much of the ball that Donaghy was forced to chase when inside - he had spent much of that 2016 league campaign as a midfielder - hung in the air for too long and left him too static on landing, making it too easy for Dublin to commit the numbers necessary to stifle him. That aside, Dublin have been intermittently vulnerable to aerial bombardment over the years, perhaps when least expecting it. Paddy Brophy's goal for Kildare at the end of the 2017 Leinster final, James Stafford's goal for Wicklow last year, Donie Kingston's success for Laois in the Leinster final, Damien Comer punched goal for Galway in the All-Ireland semi-final and the penalty won by Colm Cavanagh in the All-Ireland final which Peter Harte scored, all had a familiar theme, the hallmarks of a defence not confident in their control of the skies.

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Saturday night was another episode and no one, not least Dublin, could have expected such an approach from Tyrone. From the off, they were intent on stretching the Dublin defence wide and early with diagonal kick passes.

Mattie Donnelly got two early points and Cathal McShane got a goal to give them great momentum, all as a consequence of long deliveries to test a Dublin defence missing McMahon more than they ever thought.

By the end Tyrone had delivered some 55 kicked passes, an extraordinary figure for a team that has largely constructed a support game based on overlapping runners from deep positions.

More often than not the Dublin defence was able to intercept the passes, but when it worked it had Jim Gavin's men in retreat.

Considering that in their 2015 All-Ireland quarter-final against Monaghan, Tyrone kicked the ball less than 10 times - when kick-outs, sidelines, frees and shots at goal were discounted - it underlined what a departure Saturday night was for Mickey Harte's team.

But by keeping players like Donnelly and McShane ahead of the ball as moving targets they were able to pull Dublin's rearguard apart in a way that hasn't happened for them before on Gavin's watch.

The impact of the advanced mark in this respect can't be overlooked either. It won't be in play for this year's championship, but clearly it has made a subtle difference to the diversity of the league games it has been trialled in. Who would have thought that Tyrone would have exploited it to score off three marks, the difference between the sides at the end?

Any predictions that it would only suit players of bigger stature have been dispelled. It has suited the smarter, mobile players and given an option for the more accurate passers to flourish.

These are concerning times for a Dublin team that has set such standards. It won't slash their odds on a fifth successive All-Ireland title too greatly but to put it into perspective, Brian Fenton has now lost more games in one league campaign than he did in the previous four years since making his first start.

Their last line of defence has been and still looks their most troubling. McMahon's stock has risen again after Saturday night and with Rory O'Carroll back in the country and playing club football again there must be a temptation to recall him, despite being more than three years out, though he may not be keen on returning himself.

Irish Independent

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