Saturday 19 January 2019

Peter Canavan: The two changes Jim Gavin has implemented as Dublin evolve and stay ahead of rivals

Ciaran Kilkenny scores for Dublin
Ciaran Kilkenny scores for Dublin
Ciarán Kilkenny’s role has evolved significantly this year. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Peter Canavan

They say if you stand still you get left behind, but that's certainly not a criticism of Dublin under Jim Gavin as they constantly evolve and find new ways to improve.

There is more video footage available of the Dubs than any other side and as champions, they are the most analysed side in the game. That means it's important to always stay fresh and try new things.

One such tactic implemented this season is from the throw-in. It requires possession to be won by either Brian Fenton or Michael Darragh Macauley and if it is, the result can be devastating.

Within the first ten seconds of the League final against Galway and the Leinster final against Laois they nearly had the ball in the net because of a brilliant set play that they have developed.

The six forwards are in an orthodox set-up when the ball is thrown up and their two wing forwards sprint in to try and win the break while their corner-forwards are keeping as wide as possible and hugging the wings.

It's a default setting in football that the centre-back and centre-forward move towards the break of the throw-in, but instead the No 11 makes a dummy run towards the ball and checks back at the last second towards goal.

All the while the full-forward has vacated the edge of the square and that leaves a pocket of space for someone to exploit. Paul Mannion and Con O'Callaghan had their shots saved in the games mentioned, but one of these days it will click.

The other major change is Ciarán Kilkenny's role. Widely lauded as Dublin's quarter-back and brilliant ball carrier over the past few years, he has been finding himself at full-forward a lot more and showing a keen eye for goals.

His freakish strength makes him an effective ball winner. His goals against Tyrone in the League and against Laois the last day are classic examples as he collected a high ball on the edge of the square where his marker isn't expecting him to be.

Perhaps the absence of Diarmuid Connolly and Bernard Brogan has meant Gavin needs another sharpshooting forward and Kilkenny is filling that void, while their ploy to drag opposition defenders into uncomfortable positions is also bearing fruit.

With Donegal coming to town tomorrow night, Gavin will detail a man marker on Michael Murphy, particularly in Patrick McBrearty's absence. Murphy has spent more time in attack under Declan Bonner than ever before. He is getting on the end of attacking moves to score more freely, predominantly from centre-forward.

John Small would have been the ideal candidate were he not suspended because he has the necessary physicality and mobility, and while James McCarthy might be a left-field choice, Murphy definitely wouldn't dominate him in the air. They might try to put the Donegal man on the backfoot like Philly McMahon did to Colm Cooper in the 2015 All-Ireland final.

Eyebrows were raised but 'Gooch' spent more time tracking McMahon than being an attacking threat himself, and Dublin may try to hammer the hammer in this respect and turn Murphy into a defender.

Donegal's set-up for Dublin's kick-outs will be fascinating. They cleaned out Down and Fermanagh in this sector, varying between man-on-man and zonal marking with a plethora of scores resulting directly from winning opposition kickouts.

They now face the ultimate test trying to counteract Stephen Cluxton. They will not concede possession as, while it's high risk when the opposition suck you in and play ball over the top, they have made hay from this strategy with a numerical advantage on the breaking ball.

If there are any concerns about Cluxton's fitness, Donegal will try to exploit them early on and they occasionally put long ball into the edge of the square where bigger men like Hugh McFadden or Murphy are stationed.

Because Donegal will push up, Gavin will know that if the Dubs can secure possession from their own kick-outs, then Donegal will be wide open at the back, so expect to see them attempting to exploit this with some long Cluxton restarts.

Don't buy the myth that Donegal don't still have 13 or 14 men behind the ball at times. It's not all-out attacking football all the time but they are trying to make an effort to get bodies forward quickly.

Both sides are confident in their attack so I expect it to be high scoring. McBrearty's absence is the deal breaker, however, and it makes the outcome clear-cut. Such is his influence, I can't see Donegal winning or making the last four without him.

Tyrone come into the 'Super 8s' in a great position having played within themselves to get here, but they won't read much into the Cork game as there were rumblings of discontent in the Rebel camp and they definitely didn't appear to be pulling in the one direction.

Tyrone are a work in progress but Tiernan McCann and Colm Cavanagh are coming to the boil at a good time, while their use of the kick pass with a target man at full-forward is starting to complement their powerful running game.

A slight improvement should be enough to get them over the line against Roscommon. When Armagh can rack up 1-19 against them, Tyrone are capable of adding to that and I'm expecting a victory before the Dubs come to Omagh.

The big question with Kildare was whether it was a one-off against Mayo and if they were satisfied with that. They clearly weren't and Neil Flynn's exquisite team goal against Fermanagh highlighted just how far Cian O'Neill's side have come. With a favourable draw - they can afford to lose to Kerry if they beat Galway in Newbridge in their final game - their transformation can continue.

They can only get better and have a realistic chance of making the semi-finals, whereas Sunday's opponents Monaghan have been up and down. You couldn't write them off with Conor McManus shooting the lights out, but this is their first test since the desperate Fermanagh loss and they may not pass it.

Kerry don't really know where they stand whereas Galway have come through tough games against Mayo and Roscommon and are comfortable in their set-up.

So much depends on the middle third. If Kerry can break even there, they'll edge it because they have massive potential up front.

It will be more difficult for Galway to implement their defensive plan in Croke Park so a hesitant vote goes to Kerry in what could be the game of the weekend.

Irish Independent

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport