Wednesday 18 September 2019

Pat Spillane: 'The parachuting of Connolly back into the panel has left a lot of unhappy campers inside the tent'

Jim Gavin brought Diarmuid Connolly in off the bench last Sunday but there was no sign of Bernard Brogan. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Jim Gavin brought Diarmuid Connolly in off the bench last Sunday but there was no sign of Bernard Brogan. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Pat Spillane

SEVEN days later I’m still on a high after last Sunday’s All-Ireland final.

That epic encounter had everything one demands from a sporting contest and much more besides.

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We had lots of talking points, plenty of controversy with the result in doubt until the last kick of the game.

Some of the individual displays were breathtaking. Jack McCaffrey scored as much from play as did the 10 forwards Dublin used.

Sean O’Shea returned 0-10 from 10 shots , while Killian Spillane's goal epitomised Kerry football at its best with the ball being transferred from one end of the field to the other in 21 seconds.

Of course, everything wasn't perfect. Dublin only converted 10 of the 20 scoring chances they created in open play and Kerry’' was even worse with ten from 23. But let’s remember the so-called 'perfect game' simply doesn't exist.

Dublin and Kerry can take a lot of positives from the tie but there were plenty of negatives to mull over as well.

As is always the case with replays, the manager/team that learns most from the drawn encounter will almost certainly triumph next Saturday.

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Here we examine what both sides could be considering before next Saturday’s mouth-watering clash.

DUBLIN

POSITIVES: They survived despite playing with 14 men for more than half the game.

Stephen Cluxton and Jack McCaffrey were magnificent, while Dean Rock excelled as well. But it was in the last 13 minutes when we saw them at their very best.

Their fitness levels, character, resilience and composure were exemplary. Just look at the stats from the business end of the game: they achieved four vital turn-overs, scored a point and had possession for six minutes and 39 seconds, which was double the Kerry figure.

NEGATIVES: For the first time in their now 36-match unbeaten championship run, questions are being asked about their well-being.

Even though they did control the business end of the game, panic set in, with their shot selection falling way below their usual standard.

They pride themselves on not taking so-called percentage shots. But that’s exactly what they did last weekend, converting just one of the six

chances they created in the last 15 minutes.

Their overall forward performance was very un-Dublin like. They only scored six points from play. Three of their starting forwards failed to score and none of their replacements – four of whom were forwards – got on the score sheet.

Their tally of 1-16 was their lowest score in a championship match since the 2016 final replay.

Gavin has lost faith in his once feared replacement bench. It wasn't just last Sunday that he was reluctant to make changes.

He introduced five substitutes in the last five minutes against Cork; four in the last five minutes against Mayo – two of whom, Diarmuid Connolly and Paddy Andrews, came on in injury time.

Last Sunday he didn't even use his full complement. Eoin Murchan was a blood sub who stayed on. Diarmuid Connolly and Cormac Costello were both introduced in the 68th minute, while Kevin McManamon made his appearance in the 71st minute.

That means that for the first time since their loss to Donegal in the 2014 All-Ireland semi-final, the decision making of Gavin and his management team was questionable.

Leaving Jonny Cooper isolated on David Clifford after he had given away a penalty and had been booked soon afterwards was inexplicable.

Finally, the vibes from within the squad suggest that morale is not what it used to be.

The parachuting of Connolly back into the panel which led indirectly to the axing of Bernard Brogan from the match-day squad, allied to his treatment of the replacements, has left a lot of unhappy campers inside the tent.

KERRY

POSITIVES: Tactically they got it almost right even though they coughed up 1-1 as an indirect result of their high press on Cluxton’s kick-outs.

But they succeeded in blocking up their 'D' sector from where Dublin prefer to kick most of their points and they managed to isolate David Clifford – which contributed to Jonny Cooper’s dismissal.

They got three of the key matchups spot on: Tom O’Sullivan on Con O'Callaghan; Tadhg Morley on Paul Mannion and the big one, Jack Barry on Brian Fenton. This was the fifth time the pair have faced each other and Barry has restricted Fenton to just 0-1 in those clashes.

The much-maligned Kerry defence delivered with Paul Murphy being very influential in the role of sweeper. Brian Howard, Ciaran Kilkenny and Niall Scully failed to score from play; O'Callaghan was restricted to one pointfrom play and Mannion managed just two before being replaced.

David Moran was outstanding playing as a traditional midfielder, while goalkeeper Shane Ryan didn't crack despite Dublin operating a full court press on most of his re-starts.

Finally, 13 of the Kerry squad have now experienced what it's like to play in an All-Ireland final, which ought to leave them better prepared for the replay.

NEGATIVES: The big one was their decision making once they took the lead in the 66th minute. This was probably one scenario they hadn't planned for – being a point up and a man up with four minutes of normal time left in the final. They weren't sure whether to stick or twist.

This indecision resulted in them being turned over in possession on four occasions, conceding a point and ultimately they could have easily lost.

One incident summed up their attitude. Dara Moynihan, whose first instinct is to attack opposing defences by running at them, got the ball in midfield. But instead of driving forward he decided to recycle the ball backwards.

Overall, their forward play was disappointing, with their perennial failure to take their goal-scoring opportunities surfacing again. Apart from the missed penalty, Paul Geaney, Stephen O’Brien and Paul Murphy all left goal-scoring chances behind them.

They failed to score in the last 11 minutes and in the first half they converted three out of 11 shots from play. Added to that, three of their marquee forwards, Clifford, Geaney and O’Brien failed to find their A game.

For the third match in a row Kerry got one match-up wrong and this time it nearly proved their undoing.

Against Donegal they failed to cope with the threat of Ryan McHugh, against Tyrone it was Cathal McShane and last Sunday Jack McCaffrey almost single-handedly won the game for Dublin. The golden rule with McCaffrey is that the only hope of reducing his influence is putting an out-and-out attacker on him, which forces him onto the back foot.

Though Kerry did better than expected in securing their own kick-outs – they won 19 out of Shane Ryan’s 25 restarts – the more telling statistic is that whereas Dublin scored 1-5 direct from their own kick-outs. Kerry failed to score directly from any of Ryan’s kick-outs.

SO WHAT CHANGES WILL WE SEE?: In terms of team selection for next weekend I think Dublin will opt to play a sweeper and I don't think they will risk playing Jonny Cooper on Clifford again. He’s too big and rangy for Cooper.

I imagine Fitzsimons will be Clifford's 'minder' with Cian O'Sullivan – if match fit – coming into defence. In the reshuffle James McCarthy will move to midfield and replace Michael Darragh Macauley.

Likewise, I anticipate one change for Kerry. Killian Spillane probably did enough to get the nod ahead of Gavin White, who has struggled to make an impact in the unfamiliar role of wing forward. And Stephen O'Brien will be given the job of 'marking' Jack McCaffrey.

Kerry need a Plan B so Tommy Walsh and Jack Sherwood will be held in reserve, which means that the underdogs have more impact substitutes than Dublin.

CONCLUSION: As regular readers know I have spent all summer railing against whatever happens to be the prevailing narrative.

Since David Gough blew his final whistle on Sunday we have been told that Dublin won't play as badly again – particularly if they keep 15 players on the field.

And anyway the favourites always win replays.

I’m not so sure. After Dublin drew the 2016 final against Mayo we had the same narrative.

In the event they fell over the line in the replay. Cillian O'Connor missed a free in the dying seconds which would have taken the contest to extra time.

And remember Dublin are not playing Mayo, whose forwards were not as potent as the Kerry sextet.

And I'm not convinced that Mayo really believed they could beat the Dubs. Kerry will certainly believe they can win as it's simply part of their DNA and they're no longer a team made up mostly of rookies.

More importantly, they have got inside Dublin's heads where they have sown seeds of doubt. So I believe they have a huge chance of depriving Dublin of a fifth.

But I still give a very reluctant vote to Dublin, primarily because they have more room to improve than Kerry.

VERDICT:Dublin

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