Saturday 17 March 2018

Dublin’s mastering of ‘Situation Football’ is what marks them out from the chasing pack

'Look how many of the Dublin players have improved under the tenure of Gavin.' Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
'Look how many of the Dublin players have improved under the tenure of Gavin.' Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Dick Clerkin

'Situation Football'. A term most GAA traditionalists might baulk at, has been made famous by legendary American football coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots.

Spearheaded by his peerless quarterback Tom Brady, Belichick's record-breaking franchise have become renowned for their relentless efficiency and propensity to make right calls in crucial, 'clutch' type scenarios.

Similar parallels can be drawn between Jim Gavin's Dublin and Belichick's Patriots. On Saturday night, after blowing out the festive cobwebs, they efficiently batted down the challenge brought by a game Kildare side with an awesome third-quarter blitz.

Dublin created four goal chances in this period, netting two. In contrast, Kildare through the lively Daniel Flynn created two gilt-edged chances in the first half, only to blaze both efforts into the hillside netting.

In similar circumstances you could be guaranteed Dublin would have netted at least one of those chances. When such situations present themselves, more often than not Dublin know what to do. Their mastering of 'Situation Football' is what sets them apart from everyone at present.

Pound for pound, I would doubt there is a discernible difference in fitness levels between Dublin and Kildare, or any of the teams they routinely face down each year in August and September.

Dublin are simply coached better than any other team at present. Players don't just wake up one day, and know where to run on the pitch, when to handpass or kick, or when to shoot or not. This only comes by good coaching, and by a player's commitment to self-improvement.

They hone their instincts on the training ground, and that then causes them to make the right decisions in game situations. Look how many of the Dublin players have improved under the tenure of Gavin.

Michael Fitzsimons, Brian Fenton, James McCarthy, Jonny Cooper, Paul Mannion and Dean Rock to name a few. Good players, that Gavin has made great. Much is currently being made of the advantages Dublin have in terms of finances and playing resources compared to the rest of the country. To put their recent success solely down these factors only displays an ignorance towards the astute management and coaching by Gavin and his extended team.

In Clones yesterday, similar contrasts in efficiency were apparent when Monaghan handed over all of the spoils to an underwhelming Mayo side. With Stephen Rochford and Malachy O'Rourke blending youth with experience in their respective line-ups, the difficult conditions meant there was never going to be much between the teams at the end of a game littered with mistakes.

Regrettably, the majority of those mistakes can be laid at the door of the home team. Monaghan fans might feel satisfied with the battling qualities their team showed. Playing against a strong breeze, they recovered from a three-point deficit to bring the game level heading into added time.

But battling qualities, no more evident than in debutant corner-back Barry Kerr, isn't what Monaghan need to add to their game if they are going to make an impression later this summer, when the ground hardens, the crowds swell and the stakes rise.

Repeatedly wasteful in the final third, too often Monaghan players made poor choices in possession and took shot options that will make for grim viewing later this week. Compounding the frustration of their inefficiency in attack, Monaghan lost their discipline and composure in the crucial moments when the game was there for the taking, thus handing the initiative back to a tiring Mayo outfit. Heading into stoppage time, with a two-man advantage and the game tied, Mayo just needed to be patient in possession and work a scoring chance to win the game.

With the seconds ticking down, amidst championship type tension from a huge crowd, that chance eventually fell to Paddy Durcan, who calmly slotted over the winning point, with his trusty right boot from 30 yards out. 'Situation Football'. Monaghan can take positives from the debuts of Barry Kerr and Niall Kearans, but facing Kildare in Newbridge next week the stakes are already heightened, with the losers likely to take an early lead in the relegation betting stakes.

Following next Sunday's round of fixtures, NFL fans, of which there is a growing cohort in this country, will settle down to watch Bill Belichick and Tom Brady aim to put beyond doubt their respective rankings as the greatest coach and quarter-back in American football history, when they take on the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LII. Saturday night's emphatic defeat of Kildare clearly illustrated Jim Gavin's continued desire to achieve a similar legacy for him and his team.

Be under no illusions, Jim Gavin has his sights on an historic five-in-a-row and Mayo know they must learn how to manage big game-winning situations better if they are going to be the team to stop Jim's Dublin in their quest for greatness.

While Mayo might not have looked like All-Ireland contenders yesterday, those final moments of clear thinking, will have been a source of great satisfaction to Rochford and his management team. 'Situation Football'. A damp Clones in January isn't the worst place to start practising this.

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