LOOKING BACK THROUGH the game in the cold light of day, you would have to say Kerry were a bit fortunate to find themselves in this game.
And then in the same breath you wonder why they didn’t win it. Three points up with nine minutes of normal time remaining, you felt it was right there for the taking.
Dublin kept their cool, never panicked, and as some of their players alluded to in the post-match interview; they just stuck to the process.
Their manager’s day job involves situations when life and death could literally be at stake. And while nothing near as important took place on Sunday you feel that his team feed off that and just stuck to the plan, even in the first half when engine one seemed to be failing.
Kerry’s Long Ball
Both teams named spurious teams and the start and even the changes were only announced at the last possible opportunity. Kerry wanted to play Donaghy inside with the Gooch to test the Dublin full back line.
In order to do this effectively, you need to try and occupy their sweeper. Often that is O’Sullivan but Dublin are clever enough to adapt if necessary.
The early signs were promising. Kerry came out of defence and immediately looked for a long ball with Cooper and Donaghy inside.
Johnny Cooper takes his eye off the ball for a second which allows Gooch to take the ball cleanly.
But you can see the Cian O’Sullivan is lurking. Any sort of break on this ball and Dublin have the spare man.
Just a few minutes later, we can see the sort of problems Donaghy causes even when not on the ball.
This time Kerry break down the left hand side and O’Sullivan and Cooper are preoccupied enough that Donaghy’s clever run allows some rare space inside for Kerry.
He is being double marked on this occasion and makes a run towards the ball to leave the space inside.
There is not a lot of room but enough for Killian Young to pick out a lovely foot pass and find Geaney.
Also highlighted are Donnchadh Walsh and James McCarthy.
One aspect of Dublin’s play I really like is their ability to assess what is in front of them at any given moment.
It would have been excusable for Cooper or O’Sullivan to follow Donaghy and make sure he doesn’t get a score, but as soon as the ball is kicked they assess which is the most dangerous opportunity and go to close that down.
The same for Davy Byrne, his man has collected the ball on the 13-yard line and Dublin are turned. Not content to just stick with his man, he first has the presence of mind to spot the run of Donnchadh Walsh.
But seeing that Geaney is not the main threat now and McCarthy is struggling to get back, he goes and covers himself.
It was maybe a goal chance but in reality Dublin defended this very well from the situation they found themselves in. If Kerry could maintain that sort of success with long or diagonal balls, then great but it also lead to a lot of turnovers — eight in total.
Here we can see a long ball played to Cooper and he’s out-numbered, three to one.
And again later we see Paul Murphy kick a ball into Geaney, but it’s a five v two inside and Dublin come away with the ball.
The long ball worked a few times for Kerry but ultimately they coughed up possession a few too many times taking the wrong option.
A meltdown is what Pat Spillane called it at half-time. The difficulty for Stephen Cluxton is that he is not judged against his peers or even the greats that went before him, but some different Cluxton index, where anything but perfection is not tolerated.
The truth is Dublin lost five kickouts yesterday. One was early for the ball not travelling the required distance and the other four came in that eight-minute spell. Dublin didn’t lose another kickout in the game, finishing with a winning % of 76%.
That is something almost any other county would bite your hand off for before a game starts. Fans and pundits will lament the fact that Kerry didn’t push up on the Dublin kickouts sooner but it’s just not that simple.
Dublin look to return the ball to play within six seconds if possible. That’s one of Cluxton’s key stats. With such a fast restart, teams — with the best will in the world — find it hard to stay switched on straight after an attack to regroup and take position for the subsequent kickout.
The kickout immediately following the goal took an age to restart as Darran O’Sullivan needed treatment. This gave Kerry time to compose themselves from the goal and form a solid defensive shape for the next kickout.
Here we can see Aidan O’Mahony has pushed all the way up and is inside the Dublin 45.
If you do want to play with a sweeper, then you can’t have him pushing this far up for every kickout.
As soon as O’Mahony sees the ball going to the wing he takes off back down the other end of the pitch, not even waiting for the ball to land.
Even in the second half it seemed that Kerry wanted to push up on the kickouts but just couldn’t get everyone on the same page quick enough.
Here, Kerry have eight men in attack when they score their second point of the second half.
The resulting kickout takes Cluxton 10 seconds to hit from the ball going over the bar. Four Kerry players are holding a high line and are looking to try to push the kickouts. Kerry did have eight players forward just moments before.
Cluxton plays the ball over the inside four and there is hardly a Kerry player in sight.
All Kerry players are retreating backwards.
Mayo will have a very similar dilemma in the final. If they play Barry Moran as a sweeper they could possibly push up on Dublin kickouts with him at midfield, just for the kickouts.
But if McLoughlin plays as sweeper, it’s hard to see how Mayo can push up on Dublin for an entire game.
There were cries of being robbed from some Kerry supporters after the game. A free and a possible ’45 not given while McManamon seemed to get a dubious one at the other end.
However, Kerry created a lot of their own issues. They concede nine scoreable frees on Sunday compared to Dublin’s four. With Rock in the form he is in, that’s simply inexcusable.
Despite Kerry getting three points ahead on a few occasions in the second half, they kept allowing Dublin back into the game with frees.
Here Aidan O’Mahony comes up against John Small. O’Mahony has left his sweeper position so he might feel a bit exposed but he has bodies beside him if he needs to slow Small up and allow the cavalry to arrive.
He gets beaten with a lovely sidestep and commits the foul.
Even from the 60th minute onwards, Kerry twice found themselves three points up. Of Dublin’s four points to draw level, three were from frees.
With bodies back and no clear opportunity, Enright pulls on Brogan’s jersey to give Dublin a guaranteed point.
A few minutes later Enright again gets in a tangle with Brogan, perhaps somewhat more necessary here, and gives away a free.
That free aside Kerry lead by two here with six minutes of normal time remaining. Why are Dublin allowed such space?
There is a lot to be impressed about with this Dublin team and in previous reports of Dublin games I’ve highlighted how big they try and make the opponents ’45.
With a full house in Croke Park, the game on the line and the match level, Dublin stuck to their process and manufactured some wonderful scores.
As Kilkenny gets the ball and the play unfolds. every Dublin player is aware of where they want to leave free for the right run.
Paddy Andrews is moving out of the space at the top of the D while James McCarthy is trying to catch James O’Donoghue ball watching and run off his shoulder.
Cormac Costello looks to join in but once he sees McCarthy isn’t going to get through he knows his role. Get the hell out of the way. This gives his marker a decision to make. Stay at the top of the D or follow Costello.
If you go back to the top of this article you will see O’Sullivan and Cooper are faced with a similar decision on Donaghy. They go to the danger and snuff out the opportunity.
Here Ó Beaglaoich goes with Costello.
Coupled with the width the far two Dublin forwards are keeping, it allows room for O’Gara to move into.
Ó Beaglaoich could decide to stay at the D here. Costello is running away from traffic to where there are Kerry bodies.
It’s a split-second decision and Dublin are constantly making the opposition think, which often buys them enough to time to create the opportunity.
Mayo won’t and shouldn’t fear the Dubs. Hardly anything separated the two teams last year. Dublin have conceded goals this year. Kerry, with the awarding of that free in the last few minutes could easily have drawn this game. Dublin are a major force but I wouldn’t write off Mayo.
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