Friday 23 March 2018

Old problems continue to haunt peak-of-condition Dublin

LAST Sunday I went to Parnell Park - the showpiece venue in terms of courtesy by stewards and Dublin County Board officials - to have a look at Dublin and Kerry.

I came away thinking one side will surely be involved in the All-Ireland quarter-final, while the other will be hoping something turns up to lift them out of a campaign which, measured against the division's four top teams, makes for pretty grim reading.

No wins against the top four and an average score, leaving out the two goals, of less than eight points per game. So no progress for the Dubs even if playing in the second division next year is no disaster.

A lot of the problems which have haunted Dublin are no closer to a solution: a shortage of scoring forwards and a fade-out close to the winning post.

On a day that was almost perfect for attacking football, Dublin scored three points from play, two from Jason Sherlock, their best forward. The great white hope, Mark Vaughan, would be better off adopting a lower profile as every mistake seems magnified in supporters' eyes. The promise of a prolific scoring machine has dried up, and he needs a few new tricks to make a contribution when there are no points, never mind goals.

Further back things were no better. Management have decided they are going to sink or swim with Ross McConnell at full-back, but his confidence won't have been helped by chasing Gooch around. Gooch was brilliant, a class above everything except for some bad shooting. McConnell at least can look forward to facing ordinary mortals from now on.

Bryan Cullen and Eoin Brosnan seemed to have a pact that neither would mark each other. A loose arrangement always favours the forward no matter how much good possession the centre-back gives to his forwards.

Overall, though, this was a dreadful match. Kerry won and looked much the better team with half their All-Ireland starting side on duty and kicking 17 wides in the process. The game was of a low standard with very basic mistakes in catching and kicking. That is, for the small amount of kicking as both sides kicked the ball as an absolute last resort. Kerry may have some excuse: there was no Kieran Donaghy so the aerial route was not so attractive, but I can't understand Dublin's tactics of continuous short passing. It does not suit them and won't work in league or championship.

One player who used possession well was Michael Quirke, a late replacement at midfield for Kerry. He won a lot of ball and hand-passed away quickly to a loose colleague, just to prove that all short passing is not entirely useless.

Maybe the early part of the year for Dublin has been taken up with a tough training regime and the players' conditioning looks to have changed. They appear as if they could take on the American marines in hand to hand combat, but the next six weeks before the championship is needed for honing the skills of football which have not and never will change.

Donegal are in town today and Brian McIver will hope that Sunday night fever is not on their minds. Trips to Dublin have not worked out well recently from a football point of view but a bigger problem was the journey home. Depending on reports it could take anything from a day to a week, with the occasional stop off for petrol.

The tough stance on discipline last year seems to have paid off, even if rumours abound again that wins over Kerry and others was celebrated with the odd glass of champagne. It may be completely untrue but it is like giving a dog a bad name, it just gives everyone an excuse to kick him.

Donegal's image problem in terms of their appetite, commitment and discipline for top class football is easily solved: win the league and then beat everybody off the pitch in the Ulster Championship. After that, allow yourselves a glass of vintage red wine before the next phase.

If that is too big an ask, go back to club football because anything less than this commitment won't convince your own supporters never mind anyone else that this is a serious business.

Doyle is scoring nine or ten points every game but it may not be enough

Donegal have enough good players to make a right bid for outright honours in both league and championship. The question only they can answer is will they get the best out of themselves. The other imponderable is Croke Park. It is a different arena and a faster game than anywhere else. Donegal must step up to this mark today because all big games are decided here.

Kildare will be suited by Croke Park. They are a team on the move and the Leinster Championship looks a lot more open now than two months ago when it appeared the Dubs could have it for dessert. With Dermot Earley on the way back, Kildare are in good shape. John Doyle is the best forward in the country at the moment, scoring nine or ten points in every game. It may not be enough to stop Donegal.

The other semi-final is the game no one wanted in either the Mayo or Galway camps. It is the pairing from hell. Should they go flat out and ignore the upcoming championship meeting or leave something or somebody in reserve? Many questions, fewer answers, yet there is no rule that prevents a team winning all their games from now on. A national title would be good for Mayo morale. They should chase it like there is no other competition. I suspect they will do just that and win today.

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