Friday 20 April 2018

Eugene McGee: Dubs defence rule the roost

Kerry's forwards unable to escape the clutches of Sky Blues' vice-like grip at the back

Kieran Donaghy sets up Killian Young for a late chance despite the massed ranks of the Dublin defence as Kerry spurned a late goal opportunity
Kieran Donaghy sets up Killian Young for a late chance despite the massed ranks of the Dublin defence as Kerry spurned a late goal opportunity
Eugene McGee

Eugene McGee

The modern tactic of using an orgy of hand-passing to move the football from one end of the field to the other always includes a strong element of risk as opposed to making greater use of foot-passing.

If it takes 10 hand-passes to move the ball 30 metres, that is 20 chances of a ball being dropped or fouled, whereas a foot-pass involves only two plays of the ball and cuts the risk.

And in the conditions in Croke Park yesterday the hand-passing was a major factor in lowering the standard of the football and led to numerous dropped balls, fumbling and fouling in the tackle and so on.

This was not the reason for the result going Dublin's way, merely a major factor in the game deteriorating into a low-scoring encounter that never lived up to the ridiculously high expectations the GAA public had for this match.

The Kingdom in particular largely abandoned their long tradition of basing their game on long, direct foot-passing, and they paid the ultimate price by creating very few good scoring opportunities and ending up with the lowest score for a Kerry team in an All-Ireland final since they lost to Down in 1960.

This was one of Kerry's worst performances for many years at this level and means Dublin have beaten them three times in succession for the first time.

Dublin were always in control of the game and were never behind. Most of Kerry's marquee players were way below form simply because they were beaten individually by Dublin all over the field.

Dublin had analysed the leading Kerry players to a tee and this ensured they were never allowed the freedom they got over the past two seasons to create and finish great scores.

But Dublin were not much better in the scoring stakes because both counties registered only eight points from play, and the Dubs got four frees to Kerry's only pointed dead ball in the 71st minute - an astonishing statistic. Clearly scoring was a not a feature of this dour encounter but Dublin always looked more likely to do better in that regard.

I thought Dublin were more determined as a group than Kerry right from the start and seemed totally prepared to engage in a slogging match that was dictated by the terrible conditions.

Many Kerry players, on the other hand, seemed mesmerised when the things that had worked so well for them all season did not work this time. It was left to handful of individuals to carry the can whereas practically every Dublin player paid his way in bringing about this eagerly awaited prize.

A lot of muddling things happened in this game that were not expected.

The Cluxton kickouts had been a major topic of conversation beforehand but despite the keeper messing up several of them, Kerry still did not reap much reward, which was very surprising.

And even when kickouts ended up in the midfield zone there was no joy for Kerry as neither Anthony Maher nor David Moran made the slightest impact with regard to gaining clean possession. This was possibly the biggest disappointment for Kerry fans.

The Dublin backs, apart from the opening quarter, held their opponents in a vice-like grip - helped undoubtedly by the terrible playing conditions - and not one of the Kerry forwards played up their form of recent months. A rethink in that department is on the cards for next year.

Dublin, on the other hand, also hit a lot of bad wides, again largely caused by the conditions, but they had more variety in their play that stretched Kerry's backs to the limit and beyond for long periods. Kerry had five bad wides by five different players in the middle of the first half that eventually was their downfall.

Once again Dublin's subs were very important, particularly Michael Darragh Macauley in the 40th minute. As stated, there was a keener edge to Dublin's play than Kerry's all through, which will undoubtedly lead to much soul-searching in the Kingdom as this was rarely the case on the many previous encounters between those sides in All-Ireland finals.

This was not a vintage display from either side considering the build-up beforehand but this is not the first time we have had poor Dublin-Kerry finals. The inclement conditions ensured we would never get a classic game of football but the closeness of the scoreline did maintain interest all through.

This is an important win for Jim Gavin and his entourage after the disaster against Donegal last year.

The players deserve great credit for maintaining their high standards, and their levels of dedication all year during a long campaign in which they knew they would definitely win their first four games and would have no serious match until the All-Ireland semi-final in August.

And with the Leinster championship next year being no different, already Dublin can expect to be playing Kerry or Cork in the semi-final of 2016, which merely exemplifies the domination of a handful of counties of the All-Ireland championship at the present time.

But right now Dublin are worthy champions, the best team in the country and the capacity to keep at that level for some time to come. Kerry, as always, will return next year with renewed vigour and definitely having the capacity to regroup successfully despite the near certainty that several of their older players will be finishing up with this game yesterday.

Tactically also some rethinking is necessary following the lessons learned yesterday.

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