By Kevin Egan
If you wanted to illustrate the personality of this Dublin football team in the space of a 30-second clip, you would take two moments from last Sunday’s league game at Dr. Hyde Park and you’d splice them together. The moments in question would be Niall Scully’s two points.
In the third minute of the game, Scully darted through the heart of the Roscommon defence, collected a pass from Brian Fenton and fizzed a shot on goal at pace. His attempt sailed fractionally too high to draw a save out of Colm Lavin, but low enough to ensure a sharp, collective intake of breath from most of the home supporters.
Nearly 64 minutes later, Scully added his second point of the tie, again pinged over from relatively close range while he ran at a very high cruising speed. Noticeably, as he wheeled around back to his position while the umpire fumbled around looking for the white flag, the Templeogue Synge Street man was still full of running, appearing every bit as fresh as he was when he opened the scoring.
If you asked somebody to look at the clip and say which point was scored by a player with three minutes of action under him, and which was scored effectively at the end of the game, the only way viewers could tell would be to look at the Roscommon players in the clip.
The home side, by contrast, were a spent force at that stage. They emptied their tank getting back level in the latter stages of the first half, and in keeping the relentless waves of pressure from Dublin at bay after half time. They had nothing left, as Dublin had steamrollered them with what this writer likes to describe as the Dublin trademark style — relentless competence.
Last Sunday, Roscommon tackled voraciously, in as much as they were permitted by referee Padraig O’Sullivan who was sometimes a touch harsh on home town players trying to force a turnover. Yet despite Dublin facing into exactly the same type of defensive pressure that cause so many openings against Monaghan and Tyrone, they didn’t spill a ball all day long.
Dublin shot 2-14, which was the second highest total of any football team in the country over the weekend, second only to the 3-12 of Westmeath against a Sligo side that’s in complete disarray. Yet two days later, how many of those scores could people recall?
It’s not that Jim Gavin’s players aren’t capable of producing moments of magic, and anyone who has seen these players operate for other managers knows this. Yet that’s not Dublin’s style, and ultimately that was what Roscommon couldn’t live with on Sunday.
There were very few soaring leaps into the clouds to catch a high kickout, but still Dublin got the better of midfield, conspicuously so when their need was greatest. All three goals were either opportunist or downright scrappy, but Dublin got two of them, and conceded just one.
Dublin kicked 14 points to Roscommon’s 12. Yet if you log on to GAAnow, six of Roscommon’s points made the cut for the highlight reel, and just four of Dublin’s. Paddy Andrews’ second point was kicked from the edge of the “D”, and that was the farthest point from which they kicked a score.
Dublin are the epitome of the saying that has been attributed to Bruce Lee – “I do not fear the man who has practised 10,000 kicks, but I fear the man who has practised one kick 10,000 times”.
The All-Ireland champions do what they do, over and over, without error. As a viewing spectacle, it’s as satisfying as fast food in that it does the job, but it’ll be forgotten about tomorrow.
Yet this is what Roscommon must aspire to compete with, even if it’ll never be a natural fit as a style of their own. It can be easy to fall into the trap of deciding that the key to beating the best teams is to produce a sufficient number of unstoppable moments of brilliance. But, far more often, the simpler and more effective approach is to have a process that will ultimately be far more difficult to stop than any single player.
In that vein, if Roscommon were to take a handful of lessons from yesterday, these are some of those that might feature.
- Keep shifting the point of the attack and if players continue to make the right runs, opportunities will present themselves.
Many modern rugby teams like to work their way through the phases, even if they’re making no progress, as long as they continue to stretch a defence and ask questions of each person with a certain responsibility on the other side. Dublin operate the same approach — they don’t often look to take on a man, unless it’s a straight-line runner from deep going at a wrong-footed player or soft shoulder. Instead their lines of support running are immaculate, they tend not to get sucked into tackles, and so they only need to wait until that moment when their inside forward has got five yards of separation, and then can make their play.
- Speed up your own restart, slow down that of the opposition.
In the black card era, simply dragging down an opponent is a dangerous tactic. However, perhaps again borrowing from rugby, Dublin (and other counties) have developed the use of a wraparound/choke tackle, where the objective isn’t to slow the other person down, but keep them standing up. It rarely draws a card, and gives the defence time to reset. Similarly, three times in the first half Roscommon scored, including Cathal Cregg’s goal, and three times Dublin got away a quick kickout and scored with the next attack. Whatever techniques are used, the principle of attacking an unsettled defence and settling your own is key.
- A shot from play under pressure is always a better concession than a free.
Part of Dublin’s incredible fitness and relentlessness is their ability to maintain honest defence instead of lapsing into fouling. One dead ball free conceded to Conor Cox on Sunday wasn’t out of character with how this team operates, but that only works when players have the pace and the energy to stay on their feet and in the right position.
- Find ways to get more bench impact
Dublin got surprisingly little from Paul Flynn, Paul Mannion or even Michael Darragh Macauley on Sunday but whatever about Macauley who came in very late, the others were still key men to bring in.
Roscommon, and all the other counties out there, have to find a way to make real impact over the course of the 70 minutes with their key men, and to ensure that their changes are proactive, rather than reactive, more frequently.