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28th Jun 2016

#TheToughest Reaction: Dear Leinster counties, stop trying to contain Dublin. If you haven’t noticed, it doesn’t work


Fair play to Meath, who restricted Dublin to a measly 0-21 points – their second lowest scoring total in the Leinster SFC under Jim Gavin.

The title for smallest score conceded goes to Westmeath, who restricted Gavin’s Dubs to 2-13 in last year’s provincial final.

They will get a chance to beat their own record on 17 July when they return to Croke Park. That will be something to aim for, because it is unlikely Westmeath will make plans to actually beat Dublin.

1-22, 4-16, 2-15, 2-21, 2-25, 3-20, 4-25, 5-18, 2-13, 2-21 and now 0-21 – the scores conceded by Dublin’s Leinster SFC opponents since Gavin replaced Pat Gilroy as manager of the team that have won 10 of the last 11 renewals of this beleaguered competition.

Leinster GAA Football Senior Championship Final, Croke Park, Dublin 12/7/2015 Dublin vs Westmeath Dublin’s Diarmuid Connolly with Paul Sharry and John Gilligan of Westmeath Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/James Crombie

Newsflash lads, containment isn’t working.

If the European Championships were run by the GAA, there would be people complaining that Iceland shouldn’t be playing in the same competition as England.

A country of 323,000 taking on England, 53 million strong… it makes a mockery of everything, asking a nation of haunting rock bands and herring farmers to take on an opponent with 164 times the population.

Westmeath, in comparison, with 86,000 souls, is only outnumbered 13 to 1 by the capital (population, 1.2m).

Granted, Gavin is an infinitely better manager than Roy Hodgson, but team sport is always about working out the opposition, playing to your strengths and negating your opponents’, working harder than them and making everything as difficult as possible for the other team.

Leinster GAA Football Senior Championship Final, Croke Park, Dublin 12/7/2015 Dublin vs Westmeath DublinÕs manager Jim Gavin and Stephen Cluxton after the game Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/James Crombie

Can Meath, Westmeath, Laois, Wexford, Longford, Kildare or any of the rest say they have done that in the last three years?

Allowing Stephen Cluxton to kick the ball short with impunity, conceding territory, funnelling 13 or 14 players back inside your own 45-yard line, attacking with no numbers from deep and isolating your forwards – what has this achieved?

1-22, 4-16, 2-15, 2-21, 2-25, 3-20, 4-25, 5-18, 2-13, 2-21, 0-21…

Complete the sequence. If Westmeath do as well as they did last year, which is a big IF against a hugely impressive Dublin side who have been free-wheeling thus far against Laois and Meath, the answer is 2-13.

But, here is the thing, even if you implement all the ambition-free tactics outlined above, Tom Cribbin is not going to be able to stop Dublin scoring. Since Gavin took over, the smallest scoring total achieved in the Championship was 12 points in last year’s All-Ireland final against Kerry and that was on a filthy day for football with Colm Cooper playing as a defender.

Diarmuid Connolly, Ciaran Kilkenny, Paul Flynn and Bernard Brogan are going to score, or Dean Rock is going to kick the frees you concede when you stop these wonderful forwards by foul means.

You have to limit them as best you can, but you must also go out with a plan for scoring yourself. Not scoring a half dozen points, like Westmeath did in last year’s Leinster final, but a proper total.

Like the 3-14 Donegal scored to inflict upon Dublin their last Championship defeat in the 2014 All-Ireland semi-final. Jim McGuinness had a plan that went beyond containing the heavily-fancied defending champions.

Donegal had the personnel, but more importantly Donegal had the gameplan to trouble Gavin’s men.

The problem with Dublin’s Leinster punching bags is they have no interest in playing attacking football, even when they are playing teams of similar ability.

Leinster GAA Football Senior Championship Semi-Final, Croke Park, Dublin 26/6/2016 Kildare vs Westmeath Kildare's Eoin Doyle reacts after giving away a late free Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Ryan Byrne

Kildare, who were beaten by Westmeath in Sunday’s other semi-final, were lucky to beat Wexford by one point in the quarter-finals. The Model County are currently languishing in Division 4 of the Allianz League, yet Kildare played for long periods with two sweepers.

Against Wexford.

How many sweepers would Cian O’Neill set up with against Connolly, Kilkenny, Kevin McManamon, Brogan, Rock and Flynn? Can you still call them sweepers if there are 14 of them in front of a goalkeeper?

Pat Spillane described Westmeath’s win over Kildare as “a slow bicycle race” on The Sunday Game as both teams played ponderous, no pace, no risk football.

It was only when they went 1-9 to 0-6 down that Cribbin’s team began to play – James Dolan, from wing-back, starting and finishing a wonderful goal-scoring move.

When they stopped thinking about containing Kildare, Westmeath happened to play a little football. Attacking football. More than likely that will be all forgotten in three weeks when they return to headquarters to try and “save face”, “keep it respectable” and “give a good account of themselves”.

Leinster GAA Football Senior Championship Semi-Final, Croke Park, Dublin 26/6/2016 Kildare vs Westmeath James Dolan of Westmeath Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Ryan Byrne

“Dublin are unbelievable at the minute so we have to do something to counteract their strengths, and maybe find some weaknesses,” said goal-scorer Dolan (above).

There are plenty of managers out there earning healthy expenses working on ways to beat Dublin, but Dublin are on television enough for us all to have a few ideas on how to make life difficult for Dublin.

Make Stephen Cluxton kick the ball long

The Parnells man is brilliant at finding his team-mates, but he is not infallible. However conceding kick-outs and allowing him to chip it 10 yards to a full-back does make him infallible and also means, after every score and wide, you are handing the ball straight back to the best attacking team in the country.

Run fast, run back and then run again

Cian O’Sullivan is a magnificent centre-back and he is flanked by two excellent wing-backs in James McCarthy and John Small, but none of them have the pace of the absent footballer of the year, Jack McCaffrey. Graham Reilly and former sprinter Eamon Wallace caused hassle for a time at the weekend, but these runs have to come from deep and they have to come constantly.

Allianz Football League Division 1 Final, Croke Park, Dublin 24/4/2016 Dublin vs Kerry Dublin's Jonny Cooper and Darran O’Sullivan of Kerry Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Cathal Noonan

Play the ball high and handsome

Just as they are missing McCaffrey, Dublin are also without highly-decorated full-back Rory O’Carroll. Tall, powerful and dogged, the Kilmacud man was the perfect penultimate line of defence in front of Cluxton. Jonny Cooper (above) is not as big, powerful or dogged. Teams are beginning to realise the revamped square ball rule takes a lot of protection away from goalkeepers. Westmeath need to hit it long, diagonal and high into goal area. It is easier than running through O’Sullivan.

Raise the green flag, not the white

It might seem obvious, but a little more ambition in front of goal would help. Up until Laois put two goals past Cluxton in Kilkenny, Dublin had conceded three goals in nine Leinster SFC matches under Gavin. The Dublin keeper and defence are excellent, but every intercounty side should be able to manufacture a few sights at goal in 70 minutes. And when you do manufacture it, don’t settle for a point.

Dublin wouldn’t.