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Dublin: 1 °C Monday 21 October, 2019

Talking tactics: how the Royals stunned Kildare at Croker on Sunday

Did Banty make the right switches or did Geezer fail to react? Emmet Ryan gets the chalkboard out.

Meath manager Seamus McEnaney celebrates after the game.
Meath manager Seamus McEnaney celebrates after the game.
Image: INPHO/Cathal Noonan

Reproduced with permission from Action81

THE FIRST BIG shock of the summer came on Sunday as Meath delivered a beat down of Kildare. Emmet Ryan looks back over a comprehensive victory for the Royals.

Meath set up a simple but effective defence

From the outset Meath looked to cut off Kildare’s threat with the high ball. Whenever possession was turned over to the Lilywhites, Meath deliberately dropped an extra man or two inside the 45.

The most visible impact of this was in the manner it limited Tomás O’Connor in moving for high balls. The Kildare target man was rarely left in one-on-one situations and he didn’t cleanly win a high ball until 31 minutes into the game, where he was subsequently penalised for charging.

O’Connor would eventually make his presence felt in the first half, the second high ball he won set up Emmet Bolton inside and he won a free that was converted by Eoghan O’Flaherty. That score didn’t come until the last minute of regulation and by then Meath’s use of the extra man in defence was having a broader impact.

The Royals used the extra body at the back to improve distribution going forward. An outlet pass in defence can not only ease pressure at the back, it can also create a much more open route to move up-field. For most of the game, despite looking the more potent going forward, Meath were happy to play a counter-punching game. Kildare’s approach in this regard must be questioned as there was a distinct lack of support going forward from their own defence. The grinding approach that won the Division 2 Final against Tyrone wasn’t evident as for most of the first half Kildare’s forwards were left to fend for themselves.

Fouls hurt Kildare

Much like Tyrone on Saturday, Kildare suffered from conceding too many frees in scoring range. Meath had 7 chances from dead balls inside of 35m whereas Kildare only had 3 in the whole game. Including balls played to open men, Meath gained 0-6 from these positions compared to Kildare’s 0-2 from their efforts. More than the individual scores, Meath were granted far more room to dictate the tempo deep in Lilywhite territory.

Far too often Kildare’s forwards ran into trouble or were forced into errors, without drawing fouls. The Royals forwards had far more freedom to operate, somewhat natural with a counter-attacking game, and cheap frees enabled more diversity up front.

Lilywhites fight back but efficiency an issue

The following image may not be the clearest but it helps explain how Kildare got their attack back on song for a brief period in the second half.

In that photo there are nine Kildare players on or inside the 45. It was at this stage that Kildare finally started getting extra support into attack. These supplementary attackers allowed Kieran McGeeney’s charges to go blow for blow in scoring with Meath.

The goal from Mikey Conway may have required some help on the way in but even this score on 55 minutes was reliant on Kildare finally moving forward in force. O’Connor claimed possession off the post and, unlike the first half, there were options inside for Kildare to go for a major.

All Kildare were managing however was to stick with Meath in the scoring department. Their most substantial run in the game was three consecutive points to start the second half and Conway’s goal was as good as it got. Converting just five of 12 chances after the break, and two of their last eight, Kildare’s attack was not make up for a similarly inept showing at the back.

Direct movement helps Royals deliver killer blow

Joe Sheridan will never worry Usain Bolt on the track but give a strong and accurate kicker room and he’ll make you pay. Sheridan showed the way to goal with two breaks through the Lilywhite defence. From play Sheridan found the posts twice, the second of which saw him make a beautiful step inside to create space and score from in front of the uprights. It was his runs through the centre that would set the tone for the rest of Meath’s attack.

The Royals recorded the final six scores of the match, a 1-5 run starting with a Sheridan goal chance that was moved out to Brian Farrell for a score on 56 minutes. Four minutes later Peadar Byrne found the net for Meath as he stormed right up the gut off a throw ball. The final three scores saw the Royals have little difficulty finding the open man or creating space to pass through the Kildare defence.

Impressive as Meath’s gaudy total of 1-17 was, Kildare’s defensive strategy or lack of it was the bigger factor here. Throughout the McGeeney era Kildare have steadily developed one of the most organised defensive systems in the country. It’s a scheme built on moving from defence into attack by having players go end-to-end gaining a marked territorial advantage. On Sunday that plan simply wasn’t there. Meath’s forwards were able to move into one-on-one situations, enabling frequent line breaks.

The verdict

Meath delivered a performance better than expected and were deserving of the win. Their adjustments weren’t the most complicated but they were ample to control this game from the off. Using support at the back they managed to cut off one of Kildare’s biggest threats while opening up opportunities to counter.

Kildare’s strategic failings were their undoing. Early on they were able to cause some problems through James Kavanagh but he rarely had the support necessary. By the final moments Kildare were reduced to wild efforts at the uprights that were well off target.

The Lilywhites’ issues with attacking efficiency are hardly a secret, their defensive failings in this game were more worrying for their future hopes. Over five years Kildare have grown into a defence-first force and yet on Sunday there was no plan.

Supporting defenders are at the heart of what they do but too often they allowed Meath to go toe-to-toe with them. The Lilywhites left their comfort zone and their Leinster championship hopes went with them.

Follow Emmet Ryan on Twitter.

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Emmet Ryan

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