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Dublin: 7°C Thursday 24 September 2020

Analysis: Dublin's attacking style, Cluxton kickout influence and Dubs dabble in dark arts

Columnist Rob Carroll takes a closer look at last Saturday’s game in Croke Park.

DUBLIN MARCHED ON at Croke Park on Saturday as they overcame the challenge of Donegal.

The42 columnist Rob Carroll takes a closer look at Dublin’s attacking play, how Donegal approached kickouts and the dark arts in Jim Gavin’s side’s play.


Dublin’s attacking style

THIS GAME COULD have been over before it began.

Had Diarmuid Connolly taken his two glorious goal chances, Donegal would have been forced to abandon their defensive shape and Dublin could have picked them off.

But Donegal hung in for long periods and when they got the goal in the second-half, you really felt it was game on.

In the end Dublin were the better team and Donegal can have few complaints.

At times Dublin’s attacks look like set plays. They have a general attacking shape and players know their roles at times with no interest in the ball.

In this first example we can see Dublin progress after a short kickout to midfield. The player on the far right is trying to stretch Donegal as much as possible.

They also have a player hugging the near touchline. Brian Fenton lays the ball off. As the move progresses, MacAuley jogs towards the far wing. He never once looks around to see where the ball is, he is simply trying to drag is player out of the way.

Fenton does something similar. After making the pass he barely turns to see where the ball is.

Fenton’s role in this move is to take Rory Kavanagh out of the space in the middle.

Although Rory Kavanagh decides to leave Fenton run on he had followed him for a few steps, just enough to create the space.

When you ask your two midfielders to do that sort of running, it should leave you open to a counter.

Clearly now Dublin leave O’Sullivan back which helps with the cover, but they don’t lack for adventure getting forward. They do commit men.

One of the most impressive aspects is the sheer work rate of the team. Dublin get turned over around 15 minutes in and it should be a typical sweeping attack from Donegal.

As you can see Dublin have both midfielders well out of position.

Ryan McHugh, picks up the ball and even with his speed the retreating Dubs are quick to catch him. The first player to check his run is Fenton.

And you can see Philly McMahon is back on the half-way already.

McHugh is slowed again by Fenton and eventually lays the pass backwards. Already Dublin have the men back. MacAuley who was full forward a few seconds previously is just arriving in support of his defence. It’s a phenomenal effort for Dublin.

Dublin force Donegal into a turnover from what should have been a great opportunity to score. Not content to just kick the ball forward and get a breather the Dublin players take off again.

Both Flynn and McManamon were on the Dublin ’45 when the ball broke down. McManamon made an initial carry down the right wing, but he is not too worried about the ball, he is simply just trying to make the pitch as wide as possible.

With Flynn doing the same on the far side, it ends up leaving a lot of space around the D.

Switching the play Connolly times his run to perfection and arrives on the shoulder of John Small.

The two men highlighted are Brogan and Andrews. I really don’t see the benefit in having your left corner back this far wide. He is technically marking his man and probably following orders but he could be another 10-15 yards inside and still be keeping an eye on Andrews.

Connolly, who moments ago was back helping in defence, is suddenly one-on-one with Rory Kavanagh and then goalkeeper McGinley. It was a great move and made all the more interesting by how much work the players involved had done over the previous two possessions.

Donegal Tackling

Jim McGuinness spoke about the lack of intensity in the Donegal tackle and it was clear to see throughout the game. Kevin McManamon loves to take players on and Donegal would have been well aware of this, but too often he was allowed ghost through what should have been a packed defence.

In this example Donegal look well set up. MacNiallais, McHugh and McGlynn are between McManamon and the ball. Lacey is on his way to act as cover.

Knowing McManamon’s style they should be looking to keep themselves between him and the ball at all times and force him to run outside them.

Paddy Andrews also deserves a lot of credit in this move. He is well aware of the space he can create and continues his run to the corner.

Between the three of them, Donegal barely get a glove on McManamon and because of Andrews run he has acres of space to run into.

McManamon is eventually fouled by McHugh but Cooper is screaming for a pass and a certain goal chance.

In the second half there was another example of McManamon’s physicality and Donegal’s lack of.

McManamon is on the ball with three Donegal men around him. The first tackler here should be looking to slow McManamon, give him no options and allow the cavalry arrive to dispossess him.

Instead he swats Eoin McHugh away and continues his run.

His pace and strength is too much for McGlynn and he fists it over the bar. But there are still three Donegal men around him in the shot above.

He should never have got that much space from a simple enough run down the line. Again there was a possible goal chance on here if he had seen McMahon.

There were numerous examples of this throughout the game. Players simply swatted away or brushed aside. Donegal lost the ball six times in the tackle but only managed to do the same to Dublin on three occasions. At times it just looked a little easy for Dublin to break tackles.

Dublin’s Dark Arts

Jim Gavin: “It was a source of disappointment that for a team that wants to play the game the way we want to, that we, Dublin, end up with 13.”

Gavin can keep saying how honest to goodness his team are but they are not averse to the dark arts themselves. Ryan McHugh was fouled a number of times as he tried to break forward.

Connolly’s first yellow card was a blatant drag down on McHugh as he tried to break forward.

In the first half McHugh plays a quick free and looks to get forward. McManamon tried to grab hold of him but stumbles at first.

McManamon stumbles but as soon as he catches up with McHugh he throws a shoulder in and knocks him to the ground.

This was more than a simple coming together.

In the second half Philly McMahon commits a blatant foul again on Ryan McHugh after MacAuley blocks a run in midfield.

McHugh is on the burst and has lost his marker. McMahon spots his run.

And puts in a shoulder to take him out.

Even McMahon thinks a free has been blown against him as McHugh looks to the ref.

The last example was again in the second half and probably should have been a black card.

Leo McLoone is on the ball and has Lacey outside him. John Small has a decision to make.

As Small moves towards McLoone, he pops the ball to Lacey. Small should have moved towards Lacey anyway, McLoone was covered by Fenton. Rather than Small checking his run he collides straight into McLoone.


As Dublin launch their next attack from the subsequent kickout, we can see McLoone is still down on the far side.

Fouling happens all over the field by all teams, Jim Gavin and Dublin can’t really claim any moral high ground in this regard, they’re as adept at the subtlties of tactical fouling as any team.

Dublin’s Kickouts

It was hard to work out exactly what the plan was for Donegal on the Dublin kickouts. In the end they ended up winning 4 from 22.

In the League semi-final we saw them leave a few men up and then race back as soon as it was inevitably lost. On Saturday, at times they pushed up but mostly they seemed to drop off.

The very first kickout, there wasn’t a Donegal player in shot.

The fourth kickout, they pushed up and forced Cluxton out of the sideline.

Then late in the first half there seems to be a communication breakdown and four players push up with the rest dropping off. As Cluxton easily clears the line of four, it leaves acres of space for Dublin.


MacAuley ends up winning a free on the 21. No team has figured out exactly what to do on Cluxton’s kickouts but the strategy seemed mixed and as a result got mixed results.

At the other end Mark Anthony McGinley and Donegal did really well to win 19 out of their own 23 kickouts.

Kerry would snap your hand off for that sort of return in the semi-final. Dublin are not as invincible as they felt last year, but Kerry have their work cut out.

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About the author:

Rob Carroll

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