Dublin have gears to rage against ma­chine

The Irish Times - Sports Weekend - - GAELIC GAMES CHAMPIONSHIP 2017 - Seán Mo­ran

Match pre­view Dublin v Ty­rone Croke Park, Sunday, 4.0 Live, RTE and Sky Sports]

We can prob­a­bly as­sume that Dublin man­ager Jim Gavin isn’t given to flights of su­per­sti­tion and that he wouldn’t have the late Páidí Ó Sé’s al­manac of piseogs that needed to be ad­dressed in the week lead­ing up to a big match. But, still...

This week­end, just like that fate­ful one in 2014 when he sus­tained his only cham­pi­onship de­feat, Dublin are in an All-Ire­land semi-fi­nal the day after a Kerry-Mayo re­play and fac­ing Ul­ster cham­pi­ons, who although un­fan­cied by the book­mak­ers bring an in­tri­cate and prac­tised de­fen­sive plan to Croke Park.

The his­tory be­tween the coun­ties in the past five sea­sons is fas­ci­nat­ing. Of all the op­po­nents to face Dublin reg­u­larly, Ty­rone are the ones who have taken the firmest grip on the cham­pi­ons’ psy­che: three matches have ended in one-point wins – two for Dublin – and the most re­cent two have been draws.

Cham­pi­onship is dif­fer­ent but Gavin’s teams don’t go out with a par­tic­u­larly flabby at­ti­tude to league matches and if you beat them, it won’t be with any as­sis­tance from them.

Through­out this pe­riod it’s fair to say that Dublin have been at their best whereas they are now en­gag­ing to at least some ex­tent with the tran­si­tion process. Con­versely Ty­rone are stronger than at any pre­vi­ous point since 2013.

Nei­ther team has had to do much since the cham­pi­onship started, although for Ty­rone to bull­doze through Derry, Done­gal and Down re­flects well on them even in the con­text of a dys­func­tional pro­vin­cial cham­pi­onship.

Dublin’s path hasn’t been much harder and what­ever glitches lurk be­neath the bon­net will be de­tected for the first time.

De­fen­sive ca­pa­bil­i­ties

Ty­rone’s de­fen­sive ca­pa­bil­i­ties are built on ad­di­tional numbers, pro­tect­ing the goal and break­ing like grey­hounds on turnover ball. There is a great deal of fo­cus on them as a counter-at­tack­ing unit with Tier­nan Mc­Cann and Pádraig Hampsey prom­i­nent and the tire­less pa­trolling of Colm Ca­vanagh but as a unit, the de­fence tack­les well and keeps the num­ber of frees down.

This will be im­por­tant given the place-kick­ing form of Dean Rock, which gives the most re­li­able ac­cu­racy over a greater dis­tance than any other cur­rent free-taker.

Dublin are sel­dom in a hurry in matches, con­tent to take their time to build scores and con­tinue to do so un­til that point where the op­po­si­tion isn’t able to keep up. They will have looked at what Mayo did in last year’s quar­ter-fi­nal – played it safe for the open­ing quar­ter of an hour, mir­ror­ing Ty­rone’s set-up and giv­ing noth­ing away – and are likely to be happy with an even con­test at that stage.

They may even use those freed by the dis­ap­pear­ance of the sweep­ers to supply quicker ball into the for­wards, as Mayo did.

Ty­rone in this year’s quar­ter-fi­nal were sim­ply too good for Ar­magh and steadily as­sem­bled 1-5 in the open­ing 15 min­utes while con­ced­ing noth­ing. That sort of front run­ning is in the past now and a cagier game awaits.

Dublin are very good at hold­ing pos­ses­sion but they are likely to find this dif­fi­cult or at least chal­leng­ing given their op­po­nents’ ap­petite for dis­pos­sess­ing ball car­ri­ers. Faster pass­ing will be re­quired and as it is un­likely that the Ul­ster cham­pi­ons will be pulled out to the wings that eas­ily, wide an­gle shots are go­ing to be a temp­ta­tion even though every fail­ure represents a swing in morale.

Con­nolly op­tion

That im­per­a­tive could make Diar­muid Con­nolly an op­tion at some point but would he be up to the test of men­tal sharp­ness after three months off the road.

De­fen­sively Dublin will know that Peter Harte dis­likes ded­i­cated tight mark­ers – ob­vi­ously no­body likes them but he can be dis­tracted, as Done­gal showed in bet­ter years – but if he gets away he and Matthew Don­nelly are qual­ity fin­ish­ers.

Both teams have ef­fec­tive re­in­force­ments to ex­ploit the in­evitable loos­en­ing of the game. Dublin’s have greater ex­pe­ri­ence judg­ing by the avail­abil­ity of Michael Ma­cauley and Paul Flynn the last day and maybe even a higher tempo.

This will tell us if Jim Gavin’s resched­uled prepa­ra­tions have worked be­cause Ty­rone have pace and move­ment that can’t be han­dled un­less Dublin are in the up­per reg­is­ter.

The cham­pi­ons have to be pre­ferred be­cause they have the physique and pace to com­pete with Ty­rone’s coun­ter­at­tacks. They also have in Philip McMa­hon and Jack McCaf­frey de­fend­ers who are as happy to get for­ward as Ty­rone when the op­po­si­tion drops back.

Cen­tre­field is an ad­van­tage be­cause Brian Fen­ton and James Mc­Carthy have mo­bil­ity and pen­e­tra­tion go­ing for­ward and fi­nally they have a deeper well of potential scorers in a match like this – as op­posed to the fix­tures up to now.

Ty­rone were un­lucky not to win last Fe­bru­ary but weren’t helped by their in­ac­cu­ra­cies. It prom­ises to be suf­fo­cat­ing but Dublin can come up for air.

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