Saturday 23 November 2019

Goal rush

All-Ireland kingpins way ahead of pack in net gains – but it’s the momentum Dubs build from goals that crushes opponents

Colm Keys

Colm Keys

Former Laois footballer Chris Conway turned to a friend he was watching the recent Leinster football final with when Bernard Brogan got Dublin's first goal and suggested they had got their timing wrong.

Conway knows the value of a Dublin goal in Croke Park and felt that with added-time already ticking down, the usual 'bounce' in these situation could not materialise. How could they squeeze anything more out of the half, he wondered? How could they 'follow on' as they normally do in the circumstances that such goals bring?

But within 45 seconds they had doubled the dose on hapless Meath, Paul Flynn gathering from the subsequent kick-off, linking with Brogan and then dropping a pass into Denis Bastick's path for a second goal.

Meath left the field seeing stars, the impact of a Dublin goal in Croke Park being felt with full force.

chaos

Goals. Dublin. Croke Park. This conjures up images of noise, chaos and speed of movement. Opposing players fear the next few minutes in the aftermath of a Dublin goal in Headquarters. They sense what's coming next.

Goals lift every team, but Dublin -- with a largely partisan stadium behind them -- have grown to thrive on the momentum a goal gives them.

"They know they can drive the dagger deep into you," says Louth's only All Star Paddy Keenan, who has twice been on the receiving end in the last three seasons of a Dublin goal flourish. "You fear the worst is coming," he admits. "It's different than any other team."

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Generally, those fears are well grounded. In the last 10 championship games that Dublin have scored goals in, they got the next score 13 times out of 15. Against Cork in the 2010 All-Ireland semi-final, Brogan's goal inside the first minute drew a calming response from Donncha O'Connor at the other end, but the stadium was still buzzing from the lift that such an early strike gave as they maintained a healthy four-point lead for much of the rest of the half.

For 14 of the 15 goals across that 10-match period, Dublin have gone on to comfortably win the 15-minute period that follows. Even the All-Ireland final last September saw a four-point deficit develop into a one-point victory within eight minutes on the oxygen of a goal.

Wexford might have been Leinster champions in 2011 were it not for the concession of a sloppy first goal, when Anthony Masterson advanced off his line with damaging consequences.

Of course it was the cue to invite Dublin on more and within five minutes James McCarthy's defence-splitting run had them five points clear.

Only Diarmuid Connolly's goal against Wexford in the first half of this year's Leinster semi-final did not trigger the usual rush to prise another quick opening.

Wexford were able to weather that particular storm, but were authors of their own downfall as the game wore on with wide after wide before Kevin McManamon's strike entering the last quarter changed the dynamic once again.

For their Leinster quarter-final in June, Keenan felt Louth had positioned themselves relatively well as half-time approached. They hadn't played particularly well but were only six points down and it felt manageable.

Then Brogan struck for the first of his two goals and the oxygen was thieved from Louth lungs.

"Everything changes when they score a goal," Keenan says. "It's almost as if they have a few plays premeditated. It feels as if their response to one of their own goals is planned.

"They got an interception on us not long after the first goal and you could see straight away they had a second goal on their minds. They wanted to drive the dagger into us and kill us off. And they did."

From six down, Louth were suddenly 14 points adrift. It had the frenzy of a shark attack.

conversion

Goals have always been a Dublin team's currency in championship matches, but over a five-year period their conversion rate far outstrips either of their 'big three' rivals, Cork and Kerry.

In their 60 league and championship matches since the beginning of 2008 they have scored 81 goals, an average of 1.35 goals per game.

Contrast that with Kerry's return of 62 goals from 69 league and championship games over the same period, an average of 0.90 goals per game and Cork's 70 from 65 games for 1.07 goals per game.

Croke Park is a telling factor and it's not hard to detect an upsurge in goals since the 'Spring Series' provided a permanent home for Dublin.

In 17 matches -- eight in league and nine in championship -- Dublin have played since the novel series was devised, their goal average per game has increased, with 29 scored.

Dublin have found ways to win games without the boost of these goals, the All-Ireland semi-final against Donegal last year being the obvious example.

But if you can't shut them out then the next best thing is to react the right way when they do score.

Too many teams have fallen down in those crucial 10 minutes after a Dublin goal.

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