Saturday 21 September 2019

Five critical areas Jim Gavin must address for Dublin in All-Ireland replay against Kerry

Seán O'Shea of Kerry in action against Brian Fenton of Dublin
Seán O'Shea of Kerry in action against Brian Fenton of Dublin
Dublin's Jonny Cooper. Photo: Sportsfile

Conor McKeon

These are vital days for Jim Gavin.

In 2016, he had the blank canvas granted by a significant underperformance against Mayo to make significant changes for the All-Ireland final replay two weeks later.

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Now, it's a little bit more nuanced.

How much of Dublin's display on Sunday was coloured by the fact that they played for an entire half with fewer players than Kerry?

Still, Gavin professed himself "disappointed" with how his team played in their eighth All-Ireland final of the decade.

And there are obvious areas for Dublin to improve if they are to win their ninth in two weeks' time.

1 MIDFIELD

Going into Sunday's All-Ireland final, Brian Fenton was Dublin's third highest scorer from play, with 3-8 to his name.

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Shane Ryan made Fenton an irrelevance on Kerry's kick-outs by simply aiming away from the reigning Footballer of the Year with each restart.

As Fenton gravitated towards David Moran for Ryan's kick-outs, it meant their best fielder was also taken out of the equation.

But Kerry winning 17 of their 23 kick-outs is three more than Mayo managed from the same number in the semi-final, more than a respectable return against Dublin.

On several of Stephen Cluxton's kick-outs, both Jack Barry and Moran went to Fenton, making him a high-risk option.

Much of Fenton's anonymity came down to the close marking of Barry, a late addition to the Kerry starting team.

In Dublin's last five matches with Kerry, encompassing Sunday's All-Ireland final and their four previous meetings in the league, Fenton has scored 0-1. Barry has marked him each time.

2 DISCIPLINE

Generally speaking, discipline isn't a pressing issue for Dublin.

They received just four bookings from the much-scrutinised David Gough on Sunday.

They also conceded 25 frees in the match, an identical figure to Kerry and in keeping with the average for a close game between two of football's top teams.

But Sunday was the third All-Ireland final in a row in which they finished with 14 men.

Jonny Cooper's last act of the match was a stonewall yellow card and, in hindsight, he would have been better to allow himself to be 'rolled' by David Clifford and suffer the consequences than cause his team to play with a numerical disadvantage for an entire half.

John Small, the man sent off in the last two finals, was at huge risk of making it a third from the moment he was booked in the 30th minute and his forced exit from the match with a hand injury may have been a blessing in disguise.

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Referee David Gough explains his decision to award a penalty to Kerry for a foul by Jonny Cooper during Sunday's All-Ireland SFC final at Croke Park. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

3 ON THE LINE

Mick Fitzsimons' adhesive performance on David Clifford made it all the more curious that Gavin didn't make a switch after Cooper had been booked in the 17th minute.

Weirder still was his high-wire decision to leave Small on the pitch, when Kerry were clearly attempting to get Stephen O'Brien in possession and run directly at the Ballymun man.

It may have simply been down to a lack of suitable alternatives, although Eoin Murchan did well in a different interpretation of the same role.

The obvious replacement, Cian O'Sullivan, was named on the bench but limped out of the tunnel for the warm-up.

Even still, Gavin was slow to make changes up front on a day when his scorers - Dean Rock besides - weren't scoring with any great frequency.

4 GOAL CHANCES

The accepted pre-game wisdom was that for Kerry to win, they would have to score at least three goals.

They nearly managed it with one, so much of their regret will be over the three that got away; Paul Geaney's shot that was cleared off the line by James McCarthy and Cluxton's two big saves from Geaney's penalty and the razor touch to deny Paul Murphy.

The goal they did score came from a quick break but only after Davy Byrne spilled a ball he first looked to have won brilliantly and Fitzsimons left Killian Spillane to cover.

This hasn't been an area where Dublin have struggled this year.

Prior to Sunday, they have conceded just two goals.

In the semi-final, they allowed Mayo just one shot at goal, although both Cork and Kildare had three each.

It helps to have the game's best goalkeeper but Kerry are unlikely to be so wasteful again.

5 SHOOTING OPTIONS

Ten scores from 20 scoring chances from play is notably below Dublin's average.

They were at 58 per cent in the All-Ireland semi-final (11 from 19) while their season average prior to last Sunday was 62 per cent.

Much of this was down to their ability to work chances from accommodating possession but tight marking and smart zonal covering meant they were forced to kick from further out by Kerry.

John Small had a wide from outside the '45 in the fourth minute. Dean Rock left one short in the 21st. Paul Mannion skied one effort and pulled another wide within 55 minutes of each other.

Paddy Small had two fall short, while both Brian Howard and Diarmuid Connolly were at the limit of Dublin's accepted 'scoring zone' when they pulled the trigger in injury-time.

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