Sunday 5 February 2023 Dublin: 7°C
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Analysis: Better defence, better movement, better decisions - it all added up for ruthless Dublin
Rob Carroll breaks down the Division 1 football final to discover how Dublin steamrolled Kerry.

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MUCH OF THE talk before this game was about how it felt more like a championship game than a league final. Before throw-in, certainly, neither team were trying to downplay this as just another game.

The finishing scoreline will no doubt hurt Kerry. In fact, you have to go back to 1934 to find a championship game where Dublin beat Kerry by such a wide margin.

However, stop the clock with five minutes of normal time remaining and it’s ‘just’ a three-point game. Dublin picked up 2-2 in the remaining minutes of the game to firmly cement their tag as All-Ireland favourites.

Control the controllable

Perhaps the post-match comments made by Eamonn Fitzmaurice about referee Eddie Kinsella and the number of frees Kieran Donaghy should have won is a bit of a smokescreen to take the limelight off his players, or perhaps not. Either way, there will be plenty for the Kerry players to digest in the video analysis room.

Dublin’s movement is sublime at times. Their players are always on the run, always trying to find or create space for each other. With Dublin, it is clear that there are no major shackles placed on the team.

In the following example it is Jonny Cooper, the corner-back, and Cian O’Sullivan, ‘the sweeper’, who are making the big runs forward.

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To no great surprise, Dublin win their own kickout, but keep an eye on the three players highlighted and their respective markers as the play progresses.

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Ciaran Kilkenny has just ghosted up the field; his marker, despite being level from the kickout, is now 15 metres behind him.

It creates a big hole down the centre of the pitch. Kilkenny receives the ball and after laying off to Dean Rock, Cooper finds himself with an easy chance to level the game again.

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And look how far away Aidan O’Mahony is! This is long before Kerry are reduced to 14 men or the game is no longer in the balance. It is just 18 minutes in, and the very next play after Colm Cooper scored that magnificent point off his right foot.

From Kerry taking the lead to Cooper levelling the game takes Dublin just 40 seconds in total. It seems all too easy for Dublin and other then a tackle attempt on Rock, no other Kerry player gets a hand on the Dubs.

Something also worth highlighting is Dublin’s defensive shape. The behind the goal camera gives us a great example of their set up on that same play. Despite Cooper and O’Sullivan bombing forward, it’s not like Dublin don’t have adequate cover.

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This is not the Dublin of 2014 where it was all-out attack and ignore the consequences. Here we can see that they have plenty of cover in case there is a turnover.

Defensive Donaghy

In any sport the closer to the summit you get, the less you get away with mistakes. There is no doubt that Kieran Donaghy is a big physical presence in midfield and will play a key role for Kerry throughout the summer, but there were a couple of signs on Sunday that defensively you will lose something by having him in midfield.

That said, there are plenty of other Kerry players who won’t be proud of their defending on Sunday. We can look at two first-half instances where this is evident.

In the first example, Paul Mannion receives the ball and Kerry look to have ample numbers back. Mannion himself is well-marked and just inside are O’Mahony, Donaghy and Bryan Sheehan.

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Mannion throws a bit of dummy and Shane Enright ends up on the deck. Everyone is marked up inside. From here, you would not expect Mannion to kick a handy point.

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I’ve highlighted Bryan Sheehan above. Although this is ultimately not his fault, he probably could have hedged his bets a bit better here and just stepped in to fill that space behind Donaghy and O’Mahony just in case.

With minimal fuss, Mannion breaks the tackle attempts of O’Mahony and Donaghy and finds himself with quite an easy opportunity.

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Kerry have the numbers, but defending is not as simple as having bodies back, it’s a skill in itself. While this is a new role for Donaghy, O’Mahony can’t be happy looking back at that.

The second example looks like a simple switch off from Donaghy. Kerry have great defensive shape, they are marking the 30m zone quite well, and actually have a man over in this case.

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I have highlighted Donaghy and Cooper, neither of whom are perhaps as defensively minded as needed in this case.

As the play progresses and the ball goes wide to Philly McMahon, Donaghy and Cooper seem unaware of John Small’s advances into the 45. Both players are looking further forward.

It is impossible to know exactly what instructions players receive — maybe their roles had changed at half-time — but neither seem aware of the danger in this case.

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Small has yet to break a walking pace here but finds himself free of any markers and with a giant hole in the Kerry defence into which he can run.

One other thing to keep a note of here is just how much time Philly McMahon has to pick out the pass. Where is the pressure?

He is well inside the Kerry 45, it’s the second minute of the second half, and Kerry trail by three in a game they have clearly stated they want to win. Whatever about the runs being made inside, there needs to be more pressure applied to the kick in.

When McMahon eventually picks out the pass, his marker is hardly even in camera shot.

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Small picks the ball up inside with acres of space and Donaghy is nowhere to be seen. As in the examples above, it all looks a bit easy.

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Sure Dublin are an impressive team, perhaps one of the most impressive we have seen, but I still don’t think Kerry will look back at that game and think we controlled the controllable.

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Clever Dublin

A screen in basketball is defined as “a blocking move by an offensive player, by standing beside or behind a defender, to free a teammate to shoot, receive a pass, or drive in to score.”

Back in 2015 it was announced that a basketball coach was to join the Dublin backroom team, and Mark Ingle no doubt would be happy with some of the screening he witnessed on Sunday.

Take the penalty as one great example. It was clearly a penalty but looking at the image below, you wonder did Kerry just switch off from the initial shot that hit the post?

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Their defenders are outnumbered four to three inside the square. However, step the video back a few frames and we can see how this opportunity was created.

It starts from a Kerry kickout and initially things look fine. Dublin win possession but it’s three v three when Macauley lands with the ball. Perhaps there was a breakdown in communication but neither midfielder tracks Macauley’s run and instead, both Kerry men end up marking the same player.

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This creates an overlap and a four v three situation inside. It only takes a split-second but Peter Crowley gets slightly attracted to the ball and it does open up an opportunity inside. Despite the gap, Dean Rock takes on the shot.

As with most people, it is easy to get attracted to the ball here but Dublin set two screens that eventually allow the space inside.

First Mannion runs into Crowley:

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Then Macauley runs into Mannion’s marker:

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Perhaps this is accidental and both players were just continuing their natural runs, but as the ball hits the post, I’ve highlighted where Mannion is in relation to his marker:

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It’s one example but coupled with the small mix-up in midfield from Kerry, it just highlights how switched on Dublin are by comparison. At the very top of any game, all of these small decisions add up.

On Sunday, Dublin had better movement, were defensively far superior, and ultimately made better decisions with and without the ball.

The scoreline was a tad flattering in the end but there is no downplaying the hype. Dublin are 22 games unbeaten and we will probably have to wait until August until that run might be stopped.

Rob Carroll is a Sports Performance Consultant. He works with sports teams & organisations to collect, analyse and visualize performance data so they can make better decisions and win more often. You can find him at

– First published 17.47

Dubs flex their muscles, Kerry’s room to improve – Monday’s football talking points

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