Sunday 17 December 2017

Talking point: Easy win can't hide defensive problems

Prolific Dublin attack bail out a leaky backline that had highest giveaway in Leinster for seven years

Kildare’s Emmet Bolton has his kick blocked by Dublin’s David Byrne during yesterday’s Leinster SFC final. Photo: SEB DALY/SPORTSFILE
Kildare’s Emmet Bolton has his kick blocked by Dublin’s David Byrne during yesterday’s Leinster SFC final. Photo: SEB DALY/SPORTSFILE
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

On the basis that Jim Gavin's relentless pursuit of excellence never stops, let's offer him something to put to his squad before they move on to the All-Ireland stages of their three-in-a-row adventure.

The superlatives will flood around their history-making Leinster seven-in-a-row success, but there was another dimension which Gavin and his co-strategists will examine carefully before returning to Croke Park for the All-Ireland quarter-final on the first Saturday in August.

Dublin conceded 1-17 yesterday, their highest giveaway in the Leinster championship since Meath hit them for 5-9 when winning the 2009 semi-final.

That's not a problem when you score 2-23, but the big beasts from the other three provinces, who are substantially better than Kildare, will be encouraged by seeing the Dublin defence so uncomfortable at various times yesterday.

Indeed, Kildare's return could - and should - have been higher. Tommy Moolick had a goal chance in the second minute but shot weakly and Paul Cribbin had an opportunity 20 minutes later but powered his drive over the bar.

The best chance of all came Daniel Flynn's way in the 42nd minute when he was one-on-one with Stephen Cluxton, at a time when a Kildare goal would have cut Dublin's lead to three points.

The Johnstownbridge man had a number of options to give Cluxton no chance of making a save, but he chose one that presented the Dublin captain with every opportunity.


Flynn's drive was too high and too close to Cluxton, who made the block. A quick counter-attack followed and within seconds Con O'Callaghan was pointing a free at the other end.

So instead of trailing by 2-11 to 1-11, Kildare were facing a 2-12 to 0-11 deficit. There was no way back from that, leaving the only question as to whether the Lilywhites would implode in a similar way to the semi-final two years ago, when they lost to Dublin by 19 points.

They didn't.

Their spirit and resolve held, but with Dublin at full throttle the winning margin was the only outstanding item on the agenda.

It looked as if Dublin would enjoy a double-digit success in the Leinster final for a third successive year, but Paddy Brophy's late goal took Kildare just inside the 10-point margin that was widely predicted before the game.

That was important psychologically for Kildare before they regroup for the fourth round qualifier clash with Armagh or Monaghan.

Reaching the All-Ireland quarter-final is probably the limit of their achievement range this year, the pursuit of which should be aided by yesterday's experience, provided they harness it correctly.

They will feel that if they can score 1-17 against Dublin, despite missing several clear scoring chances, they can extend the season for at least another two games.

Meanwhile, the big powers from elsewhere will be focusing on Dublin and, in particular, whether they are as formidable as 2015/2016.

The evidence in this case is conflicted. The attack has prospered against Westmeath and Kildare, but that was against Division 4 and Division 2 defences, not the mean, street-wise types operating in Kerry, Mayo, Tyrone and elsewhere in Division 1.

Still, when Gavin can afford to leave forwards of the calibre of Bernard Brogan, Kevin McManamon, Eoghan O'Gara and Shane Carthy on the bench at the start, it's clear that he doesn't have much to worry about from midfield up.

Despite being named in the starting line-up, O'Gara saw no action, but Brogan, McManamon and Carthy all did well.

Actually, Brogan did exceptionally well, popping five points from play after replacing Dean Rock, who departed on a black card in the 24th minute.

It would have been a Man of the Match performance by the 33-year-old on another day, but not when a 21-year-old scored 0-12 (0-6 from play).

Con O'Callaghan is the latest addition to the Dublin firing squad; a youngster with the poise, pace and precision to suggest he will be wearing blue for a long time.

Rock contributed a goal before his exit and with James McCarthy slipping in for another almost immediately, Dublin seemed set for an incredibly easy day.

Full marks to both for their smooth finishes and to Ciarán Kilkenny and O'Callaghan for creating them, but no marks to the Kildare defence for being opened up so easily.

In each case, one pass cracked the security code. Even allowing for the vision and slickness of the Dublin attack, Cian O'Neill will have been dismayed by the ease with which it was executed.

He will, however, be pleased with the progress made by his attack, albeit after a disastrously slow start, during which they scored only one point in the opening 20 minutes, at which stage Dublin led by nine points.

Effectively, it was mostly negatives for Kildare in that period. The positives came from that point on, a period which was drawn (1-16 to 0-19). Leaking those two early goals was disastrous for Kildare as it allowed Dublin to set the agenda, just as they have been doing in Leinster for seven seasons.

Kildare gave themselves a chance of really testing Dublin, only for Flynn's miss to break their momentum.

Around the country, Dublin's likely rivals in the later stages will have looked on and felt better about their prospects of stopping the three-in-a-row charge.

Gavin will be taking another look at the defence manual.

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