Dublin’s capitulation to Meath was anything but inspiring. A radical, and uncalled for, tactical realignment by the defending Leinster champions presented the Royals with the kind of holes to attack that no strategy can justify. While the final score was 5-9 to 0-13, the game was over as contest long before the final whistle.
Full backs go from first to worst
During Dublin’s horrendous first 50 minutes against Wexford, the full back line was the only part of the team that impressed. By the 53 minute mark today the last line of defence was the reason why Dublin trailed Meath by 8 points despite having as many scores. Putting up 11 points in that spell should have been enough for Dublin to be competitive or indeed leading. Instead as 4 of Meath’s 11 scores were goals the game was instead over as contest. Repeatedly the Dublin defence was caught out of position and eventually Meath made them pay with 3-2 to 0-1 run in the second half to end the game as a contest. The Stating the Obvious approach to this is to say that Dublin’s young and inexperienced backline was overpowered by Meath’s stronger forwards but that wholly misses what really went wrong. The issue to address is how the backs found themselves in this situation to begin with.
Abandoning what they knew
I was critical of Dublin manager Pat Gilroy failing to adapt his swarm tactic against Wexford to suit the conditions. This time out instead of trying to adapt the tactic Dublin had used for the entire season leading into the championship, he opted to wholly abandon it completely. Such a radical approach is horribly short-termist but more importantly prone to causing problems with a squad which had spent nearly a year developing a specific style of play. The full backs had spent a season learning to playing a completely different numbers game to the man-to-man scenarios enforced upon them by this adjustment. As a strategy the swarm is effective at countering physical advantages in one-on-one play as it closes down space before allow players to explode forward. Adapting games to suit opponents is sensible, wholly changing the way you prepared all season is not. The problems felt in defence extended into midfield and the forward line,
Lack of width limits Dublin attack
As opposed to the explosive pressing game at the core of Dublin’s league campaign, we saw a more traditional approach of committing players into the opposition half. Unfortunately this wasn’t coupled with any attempt to spread across the park. When you take out the wings from attack you take out the centre as well. Meath’s backs eventually realised that Dublin’s forwards could be forced outside to retrieve the ball and subsequently removed any options in the middle to generate solid scoring opportunities. The decision to start Alan Brogan backfired wildly as the previously reliable forward lacked imagination, proving woefully predictable in his attempts to create attacking opportunities. This was further compounded by the failure to introduce Michael McAuley at stage where he might have impact on the game. As Dublin’s best sideline-to-sideline ball-winner in the Wexford, McAuley could have been a difference maker had he been introduced before the game was out of hand. Instead Dublin stuck doggedly with the under-performing Brogan to the end, never making any effort to play the Football that worked so well for them earlier this season.
This isn’t Tennis but…
It may seem odd to say Meath fans have cause for concern after putting 5 goals past a team which hadn’t lost a game in the province since 2004 but the Royals showed some serious holes. These were the kind of glaring errors which need to be addressed if Meath is to avoid an upset against Louth in the Leinster final. In Tennis there is a statistic called unforced errors, which relates to mistakes which can only possibly be attributed to poor judgement on the part of the player. For all of Dublin’s profiligacy up front, they still managed to put 8 points on the board in the first half and indeed went in level. Of those scores at least 4 were clearly down to unforced errors on the part of Meath’s backs, and you can double that for the total number of scoring chances for Dublin that were a result of such mistakes. The blame must squarely lie on the players making needless mistakes in these instances as opposed to any tactical issues on Meath’s part. While the defence tightened up after the break, there remained too many times during the second period where the Meath’s backs looked to be auditioning for the Washington Generals when competing for breaking balls (admittedly their jerseys are the right colour).
Given the efficiency shown by Louth’s attack in their three outings this season such a showing simply won’t do for Meath to claim its first provincial crown since 2001. I expect the Royals to fix this but it should be a far closer provincial final than the media will predict. Get ready for a stream of clichés about Louth being a small county not used to being under bright lights etc. As for Dublin, their future prospects are entirely down to the route they get in the qualifiers. Unlike some analysts who say sometimes the backdoor is a better option, I’m a firm believer in the concept of winning every game and pounding your opponents into submission. Defeat should never be considered a fortunate outcome.