Thursday 17 January 2019

Dick Clerkin: Dublin start to look human as Galway push them all the way in decider

Dublin's Paul Mannion hits the ground under pressure from Cathal Sweeney. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Dublin's Paul Mannion hits the ground under pressure from Cathal Sweeney. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Dick Clerkin

Twelve months ago Galway edged out Kildare in a Division 2 league final of forgettable mediocrity. Yesterday they pushed a full-tilt Dublin all the way with a gritty, character-building performance that sends them into the championship summer buoyant with confidence.

If last week's surprise defeat to Monaghan was allowed to be dismissed due to a combined lack of firepower and interest, nothing of the sort could be said about Dublin's approach yesterday.

Playing with 14 men for the last 20 minutes, after Niall Scully received his second yellow card, they had to call on all of their experience and craft to regain the league title they lost to Kerry last year.

When Shane Walsh brought the teams levels in the 53rd minute with a wonderful individual effort, many onlookers sensed that an upset was on the cards.

However, the following 10 minutes of play clearly illustrated the difference between the teams. With an extra man, this was the time for Galway to push on and 'have a real go' at Dublin. Instead they refused to commit bodies forward from their largely defensive set-up and allowed Dublin to monopolise possession.

With ball in hand, it was only a matter of time before Dublin created the chances. And when they did, it was the big-game players - Rock, Kilkenny, Fenton and McMahon - who turned up to do the heavy lifting.

During this time, an area where Dublin could have been exposed was at the breakdown in the middle third. When they went a man down they flooded this area to put pressure on the Galway kick-out. As a consequence they left oceans of space in behind, but in the end it was never exploited.

Think back to 2014 when Donegal exploited this to the full with Paul Durcan's long trademark kick-out down the middle, and a ground assault in hot pursuit to capitalise on any possession won.

When Paul Conroy finally collected a deep delivery in the 66th minute yesterday we saw, for once, what can happen when you roll the dice in this regard.

With the centre opened up, and runners either side, it was one of the few times a goal opportunity was on the cards for Galway. In the end Conroy fluffed his lines, and Dublin saw the game out. It was a scenario Galway obviously hadn't prepared for.

Dublin have looked more human over the past few weeks than at any stage in Jim Gavin's career. The strength of their panel is heavily dependent on a few key personnel, with Mannion, Kilkenny and Fenton quickly becoming indispensable.

As for Galway, it would be unfair to criticise their overly defensive approach at this stage in their rapid development. However, when Kevin Walsh looks back over the match footage in the coming days, he will admit they didn't have that killer instinct when it was needed.

He can be hugely satisfied with their league campaign, but with All-Irelands embedded in his psyche, he will know he needs to find more if they are to challenge for greater honours.

At a time when a prevailing noise of discontent engulfs the style of modern-day football, it is refreshing to watch Kieran McGeeney steer his young Armagh team towards traditional values: long-range kick passing, high fielding and confident score-taking from distance.

Far from being a team weighed down with squat bars and dumbbells, they are evidently being coached in a style of play that, at times against Fermanagh on Saturday night, was as pleasing to the eye as anything you are likely to see all year.

Andrew Murnin put in a Man of the Match performance, and his exceptional points on 6 and 16 minutes would be worthy of any coaching DVD.

On each occasion Niall Rowland delivered pinpoint passes out of the defence to the ever-available Rory Grugan, who in turn found Murnin inside with similar levels of efficiency and precision.

Murnin backed himself on each occasion to raise a white flag with confident finishes. No lateral hand passes, no aimless solo running, no shirking of responsibility in front of goal. Okay, there were times similar moves broke down, but fortune favours the brave - with Murnin's decisive, if fortuitous, goal in the 53rd minute after a speculative high ball into the square, a case in point.

Fermanagh, to their credit, provided game opposition, and Rory Gallagher can be satisfied that they too are moving in the right direction.

However, the obvious contrast in styles of play, was ultimately the deciding factor. As Fermanagh soloed and hand-passed, Armagh kicked and moved.

Murnin was peppered with long early balls all evening, whereas his opposite number, Seamus Quigley, only touched leather courtesy of the free-kicks Armagh's sloppy tackling offered up.

When you consider Fermanagh enjoyed over 60pc of the possession, it was very much a case of 'it's not how many you get, it's what you do with them that counts'.

Irish Independent

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