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Dean Rock: Roscommon won’t catch Dublin cold again with roving ‘keeper ploy

In last year’s All-Ireland draw, Conor Carroll ran Dublin ragged in the heat - Dessie Farrell will be prepared this time around

The only game Dublin failed to win during the 2023 championship took place on this very weekend last year – a draw with Roscommon.

Afterwards, there was plenty of discussion about how Roscommon had set up, their tactic of using goalkeeper Conor Carroll as a plus one coming out with possession. There was a passage of play where they held the ball for around six minutes and the game ended level after Roscommon notched a couple of points late on.

And while we were disappointed not to have won, the truth is we took a lot of learnings from that match. The goalkeeper coming out as an extra body was a tactic we figured more teams would be looking to use in the future, so in the days after that fixture we had conversations around how to deal with it and what the benefits might be of pushing up more.

The game was played on a very warm day at Croke Park and in such heat when a team is holding the ball, it can be draining trying to get possession.


The big thing we noticed looking back at it afterwards was how, too often, we had players individually trying to chase the ball down – whereas what we needed was a more coordinated press.

It was only on reflection we managed to identify and address that, and I think Dublin have been quite good ever since in terms of dealing with opposition goalkeepers coming out with the ball, they can see when to press and get turnovers where you want to get turnovers.

But the heat was certainly a contributing factor in that game last year because players were nearly happy to take a rest when Carroll had the ball. That led to a situation where there wasn’t much pressure on the ball and Roscommon could play around with no need for urgency.

Davy Burke will rightly feel the tactic worked for them last year and I’d imagine Roscommon will try something similar again this Saturday, but I’m not so sure they will have as much luck with it this time.

I watched most of that game from the stand 12 months ago before coming off the bench in the last 10 minutes.

It was a scenario I had to wrestle with throughout last summer as the management saw my role as coming in as a sub to help close out games.

I started five National League games, but I only made the first 15 for one championship match in 2023 – the round-robin win over Kildare.

When significant changes like that arrive in your career, you go through a whole range of emotions because no matter what any player or manager tells you, everybody wants to start.

There are a lot of pros to coming on late in games and getting important match-defining scores, but ultimately players dedicate hours upon hours of their lives in order to start matches and play. Being on the pitch is what justifies all the sacrifice.

During my career I would always have been curious and would have asked questions in terms of how I could get better or how I could get back in the team, whether that was with Jim Gavin or Dessie Farrell.

And I would have had those conversations with Dessie last year, but ultimately it was explained that the management wanted to use me coming in off the bench to close out games.

It’s not something you are willing to accept at the beginning, because naturally you want to start. But at the same time, you realise the bigger goal here has to be all about the team, and the main target last year was getting Dublin another All-Ireland.

I took a lot of energy from working with the younger fellas and educating them around performance and what they needed to do in order to play at the highest level. I found I got kicks from different things, but ultimately you still wanted to play more minutes.

It is very challenging in the moment, your mind goes through different scenarios, you question everything, but you just have to show perseverance and resilience.

Initially when I was coming off the bench I wasn’t making as big an impact as I possibly could have, because I was probably angry and a little bit thick. But I found when I accepted the role and understood what it entailed, I was able to have a greater impact.

By the latter stages of the championship, I had taken solace in the fact management had put faith in me to go out and use my experience to help us close out games. I managed to contribute on the scoreboard in the All-Ireland quarter-final, semi-final and final.

Thankfully it worked out in the end because we finished the season as All-Ireland champions.

Keeping players happy, motivated and ensuring spirits are high is a constant challenge management teams face. And that challenge can be amplified when managing players who have won so much in the game already.

I think Dessie knows the 15 players he wants to start games and the guys he intends to introduce to make an impact coming down the stretch.

I feel Dublin are in a good place right now because they are getting players like Jack McCaffrey and Lee Gannon back from injury while they got some game time into the likes of James McCarthy, Michael Fitzsimons and Stephen Cluxton during the Leinster SFC.

Dublin went away to a camp in Portugal after the Leinster final and there will have been a noticeable gear change to training over the last few weeks.

The concession of two goals against Louth will have annoyed the defence, because they really pride themselves on keeping clean sheets – so I’d imagine that will be one aim against Roscommon. It’s still a couple of weeks before we reach knockout football but all teams want to start their round-robin series with a win, and Dublin are no different.

There are no shortage of motivating factors driving the team on this year – not least the passing of Shane O’Hanlon, who was a huge part of the group for so long. Shane will be referenced often in the dressingroom over the coming weeks, a reminder to the players of the privilege it is to represent Dublin.

But I also believe there is a real desire within the group to win back-to-back titles. That might sound odd, given the massive success Dublin have had in recent years, but retaining Sam hasn’t always proved straightforward.

When Dublin had that breakthrough triumph in 2011, we didn’t retain it in 2012. We won it in 2013 but didn’t back it up in 2014. We won in Dessie’s first year in 2020, but again the following year we came up short. So, I think they will be going after the back-to-back.

Also, there are quite a few players who are more than likely in their last year within that dressing room, so motivation won’t be problem for Dublin over the coming weeks as the business end of the season arrives.

Starting with Roscommon this weekend.