Everything needs to click for Kildare to prevail but Dublin look the complete package
Variety of attacking options makes Jim Gavin’s side very difficult to contain
Whenever Dublin walk onto the championship stage our interest is heightened, and hopefully that is justified by tomorrow’s Croke Park showdown against Kildare. Dublin are heavy favourites to win, although it might be closer than some people expect.
Dublin won’t have learnt much from their win over Westmeath, and we didn’t either, except for their obvious intent on building on their league form. The introduction of younger players has been seamless, particularly the likes of Jack McCaffrey and Paul Mannion.
Any team that is able to introduce younger players will know they automatically raise the pace and intensity at training, and it’s no secret that Dublin have real competition within their panel.
Dublin have been setting up a little different since Pat Gilroy’s time in charge, and might just be a little vulnerable at the back. We’ve certainly seen a willingness of their half-backs to attack, one of the platforms of their game, starting from Stephen Cluxton’s kick outs, with James McCarthy, Ger Brennan and McCaffrey all regularly shooting forward.
If, or when, these attacks break down Kildare will have to take advantage. One of the Dublin’s failings might be their tendency to solo too much, which leaves them open to the turnover. If Kildare can swoop in on that then Dublin’s full back line can be exposed.
The addition of Jason Ryan to Kildare’s backroom team might well help in that. Kieran McGeeney has never had a problem with fitness, or possession, but rather a proliferation of wasteful attacks. Ryan, I suspect, will help address that, because they will need to raise their offensive game, and strike rate, to have any chance of beating Dublin.
Kildare’s biggest failure in recent years has been their poor strike rate, and inability to turn possession into scores. They’ve been racking up 15 to 20 wides per game, and that has to stop. If the shot is not on, then you must recycle the ball. Kildare are far too trigger-happy, especially their half backs and midfielders.
Their support play is exceptional, but it should be the forwards who are scoring. That was one of the reasons for sending out the SOS to Seánie Johnston, although that hasn’t exactly worked.
Another of Kildare’s faults is their sometimes reckless attack, and they will definitely need to put a far greater emphasis on defence. They league record proved that, the amount of scores conceded.
Things were so defensive when Donegal met Down last weekend, but even when Donegal lost possession in the turnover they were able to recover, always had players covering, and that’s something Kildare can learn from. If they lose possession they have to get players back to recover, particularly their half forwards. But that’s easier said than done. Jim Gavin’s whole philosophy is based on a the high-tempo game, sustaining it over70 minutes, wearing the opposition down, and truth is few teams can match it. His bench too boasts quality players like Dean Rock, Kevin McManamon and Denis Bastick.
Dublin have moved on from any reliance on Bernard Brogan, with Paddy Andrews and the exceptional Paul Flynn adding more to their scoring spread, with Diarmuid Connolly pulling more strings as well. That makes them so much more difficult to defend against.
What Dublin can improve on is the quicker delivery from midfield. Michael Darragh Macauley tends to burst past two or three players first, and that makes it harder for the players inside to position themselves, but still, so far, they’ve been living up to all the expectations.
Kildare also lack any standout leaders. Dermot Earley had that in his prime, but now they’re still looking towards Johnny Doyle, when they could really do with a few more leaders, especially in defence. If Kildare pull all of that together on the day then they have a chance, but otherwise Dublin look the complete package and that will see them through.
Meath against Wexford, in the first semi-final, could definitely go either way. I suspect something is happening in Meath, when players like Joe Sheridan and Brian Farrell are coming off the bench, and Mick O’Dowd is clearly building towards a younger, faster team.
Wexford won’t fear them, have some exceptional forwards, and a good record in Croke Park, but my gut feeling here is for Meath.
Cavan deserve great credit for bringing on such a young fit team to this evening’s Ulster semi-final, and while Monaghan’s experience and hardened campaigns make then a more difficult prospect, I fancy Cavan to maintain that momentum for another day.
London have to do it all over again against Leitrim but the Exiles may have left the chance of making the Connacht final behind them the last day. Tyrone, Derry, and Armagh should advance in the qualifiers but Galway will want to tread warily against Tipperary or else that might provide the one upset.