Wednesday 18 September 2019

Frank Roche: 'Have Dublin lost their shooting boots at the final hurdle?'

Diarmuid Connolly hits a late shot that went wide during the drawn All-Ireland final. Photo: Sportsfile
Diarmuid Connolly hits a late shot that went wide during the drawn All-Ireland final. Photo: Sportsfile

Frank Roche

In the aftermath of that epic All-Ireland stalemate, one statistic leapt from the Twittersphere about Jim Gavin's metronomic, process-driven Dubs.

It came via that font of football knowledge, @gaelicstats (aka Rob Carroll): "The last Dublin player to attempt a shot (from play) outside the 45 in Champ football was D Connolly in 2016!"

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This came against the backdrop of another shot from Diarmuid Connolly, who pulled the trigger seeking an injury-time equaliser against Kerry 12 days ago.

TV replays suggest that the point of contact was bang on the '45'. In other words, not quite outside.

This type of long-range attempt from play has become an endangered Sky Blue species in recent seasons. That is no coincidence; very little happens by chance in Team Gavin.

Over the past three summers especially, Dublin have reserved the vast majority of their shots for within the 'scoring zone' - inside a 35-metre arc of the posts.

Figures from Sure, official statistics partner of the GAA, confirm as much, revealing that over the past five campaigns, the percentage of Dublin shots from play coming from 'inside 35' has veered from 66pc (2015) to 59pc (2016) but then soared to 70pc (2017) and 75pc (2018), marginally dipping to 73pc (2019). In other words, just over a quarter of all Dublin shots are now coming from beyond 35 metres.

Another possible reason for this long-range famine is the fact that Connolly has played so little championship football in 2017, '18 and '19. His last shot beyond the '45', against Kerry in the 2016 semi-final, was missed.

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As Kevin McStay noted during RTÉ's match commentary last Sunday week: "That last effort was just made for Diarmuid Connolly. That 'slicer' that he gets so often - just wide."

It was hard to disagree. The 32-year-old has spent much of his career, for Dublin and St Vincent's, taking on opportunities of this ilk. He was in the pocket, not under savage pressure from a Kerry posse - more like the very different pressure that comes when your team is one down, two minutes into injury-time, and you're striving to keep the Drive for Five alive.

And this time he missed.

The bigger question, though, concerns Dublin's overall shot selection in the fraught finale of the drawn decider.

Fateful

Brian Howard's last act of a Herculean shift was to skew a right-footed shot from the right wing, wide of the near upright. The clock had just ticked beyond 67 minutes. This was the first of five Dublin attempts from play in the lead-up to Dean Rock's fateful wide at the death from that touchline free.

Just one of the five was scored - Rock with a trademark right-footed finish from the left flank, having moved into a pocket of space to receive Eoin Murchan's lay-off.

This was a textbook example of Dublin locating the right man in the right place - even though, technically, Rock was standing just outside that 35m scoring zone, taking the angle into account.

The Ballymun man didn't flinch; his technique was flawless.

Less so some of his colleagues. Following Howard's errant example, Cormac Costello was denied an equaliser by Hawk-Eye (a matter of inches); then came Connolly's wide; then, after Rock's equaliser, Paddy Small ballooned a high kick from the left wing and it was punched clear by Kerry goalkeeper Shane Ryan.

Only one of these attempts - from Costello - was inside 35m, although he was shooting under pressure.

Small may well have been distracted by Paul Geaney's despairing dive but, in retrospect, it was the type of pot-shot to which players often succumb when the stakes are so high. Except you don't normally see it from a Dub.

Reflecting on those late misses, Joe Brolly noted on The Sunday Game: "These are curiously un-Dublin things."

Earlier in the fourth quarter, another Small attempt from outside 'the zone' almost crept over - only for Ryan to punch clear and initiate the move that led to Killian Spillane's goal. On such fine margins are All-Irelands won and lost - or drawn.

Sure have provided two Dublin shot maps against Kerry, pinpointing their first- and second-half attempts from play. These do not include Con O'Callaghan's first-half goal chance that was saved - because referee David Gough was playing advantage but then called back for a free-in.

The same rationale was used to exclude a second-half 'wide' from Paul Mannion that was called back for another free.

What's fascinating is how Dublin veered off-script after half-time.

As mentioned above, 73pc of their shots in 2019 have been from inside 35m. Against Kerry, however, they took ten shots from outside '35' and ten from inside - a 50:50 split.

The split between first- and second-half is even more intriguing. From first-half open play, Dublin amassed 1-5 from seven shots inside 35m - the only 'failure' was a Jack McCaffrey shot deflected for a '45' that Rock converted. Their only two shots from outside '35' were missed.

After half-time, Dublin had 11 shots from play but Kerry restricted them to just three from inside '35' - two of these, both from McCaffrey, were converted. Two of their eight attempts from outside '35' - McCaffrey again and Rock's equaliser - were scored. The message is undeniable.

In mitigation, Dublin were a man down for the entire half and this probably impacted on their ability to engineer openings closer to goal.

But maybe another pressure told, especially in the home straight as history beckoned. Was it the pressure of five-in-a-row?

  • Shot maps provided by Sure, official statistics partner of the GAA

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