Monday 16 September 2019

Michael Verney: 'How Buckley's defensive masterclass helped shut down the Dubs' potent attackers'

A general view of fans during the Final. Photo: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile
A general view of fans during the Final. Photo: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile
Michael Verney

Michael Verney

There has been one common denominator in the significant speed bumps which Dublin have hit along their road to the immortal drive for five. His name is Donie Buckley.

It's easy to point to someone's influence and glorify their achievements when results go a certain way, but compliments to Buckley are justified.

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A quick scroll through his record shows his involvement with Mayo as the westerners pushed the Dubs to two championship draws (2015 All-Ireland semi-final and '16 decider) as well as a pair of one-point defeats ('16 final replay and '17 final) which brought them closer than ever to the holy grail.

Having returned to his native Kerry this year, Buckley played a vital role as the Kingdom pushed the seemingly infallible Dubs to within an inch of their lives last Sunday.

Their game was built on disciplined but aggressive defending and that has been a calling card of Buckley's coaching career. His presence in Kerry's backroom team was also the a prerequisite for Peter Keane to be handed the reins last autumn.

With forwards like David Clifford, Seán O'Shea and Paul Geaney at their disposal, scoring was never going to be a problem, but it was at the other end where the dam was bursting and opposition attackers were running amok with ease.

The starting point is creating a foundation which makes a side solid and difficult to break down, but there was no obvious defensive plan in recent seasons, even more recently in recent months, with Kerry.

It has been a work in progress this season - probably with the Dubs in mind - but they snuffed out a much-vaunted attack housing some of the game's most explosive talents.

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Aside from defender Jack McCaffrey (1-3), Dublin managed just three other scorers, with their six points from play shared between Dean Rock (0-3), Paul Mannion (0-2) and Con O'Callaghan (0-1).

The forwards who were touted to rip an underwhelming Kerry defence to shreds were brilliantly nullified as Kerry filtered bodies back into the danger areas with great efficiency and refused the Dubs the space they need to operate in.

Regularly utilising a front sweeper - pressing the player trying to break the attacking line - and a back sweeper (predominantly Paul Murphy, who provided vital cover around the 'D' with his pace proving crucial), they stifled the Dubs.

Their greater energy and speed allowed more bodies to flood the scoring zone which Jim Gavin's side have made hay in during this magnificent undefeated championship run, and they were forced to take pot shots, which is a rarity and something which delighted Kerry legend Eoin 'Bomber' Liston.

"The big thing was that when they went into the pressure areas, there was pressure applied and they were going to have to earn the chance to take a shot in those high percentage scoring areas," Liston said.

"It was great to see Dublin having to resort to shooting from outside where they should normally be shooting from, it just shows how good of a defensive display it was.

"Coaching is all about taking the opposition out of the comfort zone and forcing them to do something that they haven't done for a while, something that they don't want to do when the pressure is at its highest."

Kerry defended the 'D' like their lives depended on it, with former Tyrone star Sean Cavanagh making favourable comparisons between Kerry and his brilliant Red Hand side during the early noughties.

Cavanagh was critical of their back six after conceding three goals in the Munster final defeat of Cork, saying that they had "a runway down the middle of their defence" and that "most of their defenders don't want to defend", but those problems have been ironed out.

With the likes of David Moran sprinting back every time a long ball was played in, defensive cover was provided to the likes of Tom O'Sullivan and Tadhg Morley with what Cavanagh described as "pure energy" and that was evident to see.

The collective defensive unit had been questioned regularly as they were branded good individual defenders who were not playing together as part of a system, but they called the same tune on Sunday and it was a defensive masterclass.

Former Mayo star Kevin McStay questioned on commentary before throw-in whether Kerry had enough "dog defenders" to quell the Dubs' threat, but they refused to bend, employing an aggression not previously seen.

Having Murphy as the free man forced a radical rethink from the Dubs when they were on the attack. Knowing that the middle sector was clogged up, they had no interest in going there and it forced them to slow it down and be more predictable than at any stage in the last five years.

Liston sees "no reason why they shouldn't be able to do that again" in the replay, with another full-blooded defensive display expected. If they do so and thwart history, Buckley will rightfully be taking a fair chunk of the credit.

Irish Independent

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