Louth’s participation in the All-Ireland Football Championship ended in a whimper but there are still lingering doubts around their conquerors.
Louth give Dublin space, Dublin fail to capitalise
From the off it looked like Louth would be in for a long day as Dublin had little trouble winning possession in midfield and the half-forward line. Once again Michael McAuley was a menace to opponents but his efforts were well match by Ross McConnell and a resurgent Bryan Cullen, the latter putting in his finest display in several years despite one notable defensive lapse.
For all the possession Dublin enjoyed due to Louth’s dire marking, they failed to make the most of it. Much of this was down to poor decision making in terms of distribution. Dublin’s plan to play long balls at Eoghan O’Gara and Alan Brogan, who swapped with David Henry to play corner forward, certainly had merit but too many errant passes found either an opponent or went out of play. It wasn’t all bad news for Dublin’s passing. The highlight of the day came from full-back Rory O’Carroll, who delivered by far the best pass to create an attacking opportunity when he briefly left his comfort zone on 50 minutes to move towards midfield before releasing neat ball to the left.
It wasn’t merely the inaccuracy of passing that caused this problem. Too many times a player managed to win a ball well only to find no outlet to offload. Distribution requires work on the pass on the recipient just as much of the passer, Dublin lacked in both areas on Saturday.
Finally there was the issue of utilising space. Ger Brennan was one of many culprits who, despite having an otherwise solid game, failed to exploit the open swathes of grass before him. Louth reacted to Dublin’s long-ball tactic early, over-committing bodies deep and leaving plenty of room for rampaging forwards to run. O’Gara, who I will get to later, was one of the few players with the confidence to attack space and bring some diversity to the Dublin attack.
Wee bit of a passing problem
For all of Dublin’s issues in the passing game, it paled in comparison to Louth’s distribution issues. The Wee County was already in trouble when its midfield, which had impressed in the Leinster Championship, was dominated throughout by McConnell and McAuley. The issues began at the back with the unforgivably poor kick-outs from goalkeeper Neil Gallagher. Two of his efforts off the ground managed to directly find the sideline. The half-back line did little better with several balls to nowhere giving possession back to Dublin’s already dominant defence.
Brogan brothers highlight inaccurate Dublin
Bernard and Alan Brogan were not the only forwards that misfired for Dublin on Saturday but the issues with both of their performances summarise the issues affecting the Dublin attack. When a side goes in with a 9 point lead at half-time and can be legitimately called profligate then you know it’s a strange day.
Starting with the older brother. Alan Brogan simply hasn’t performed this summer and his early point from the right hand side was comfortably the highlight on an otherwise woeful day for the forward. His accuracy was nothing short of atrocious, like so many of his colleagues, and much of this was down to poor decision making. Dublin’s forwards either pulled the trigger too hastily or failed to create an outlet for a better chance on multiple occasions.
Much of this seemed to be down to players rushing under pressure. Bernard Brogan best symbolised this as he was over-eager to try and score spectacular efforts from the corner when moving the ball inside would have been a far smarter move. Substitute Eamon Fennell was one of a string of players who tried to brashly play the hero when working the ball was the smarter option.
O’Gara’s goals gloss over mixed performance
Eoghan O’Gara’s 2-1 tally really failed to tell the whole story of his game. In terms of winning possession he was once again an effective brute, with a work-rate that should leave any manager grinning. Despite playing full-forward, O’Gara occupied a role a little further out the field and this should have suited him but, as I mentioned earlier, Dublin’s failure to provide passing outlets limited his ability to make the most from this position. When he did take on his man and charge in a straight line O’Gara was dominant. His finishing however remains a big issue, even the first goal he scored was helped by a deflection.
The forward clearly realises this is a problem as he over-worked the ball too often, trying to take shots from positions ill-suited to his ability and one notable wide where, in an effort to recover from over hitting a solo, he quickly tried to fist a point. That effort went wide but depsite the poorly kicked solo, O’Gara still had ample time to steady himself and make a better go of it than he did.
Like Jack O’Connor has managed with Kieran Donaghy, I believe Pat Gilroy can turn an athletic freak of limited Footballing talent into an effective role-player if used correctly. Essentially Gilroy needs to limit O’Gara’s attacking plan to what he does best while focussing on ways to provide the forward with outlets for quick short-range passes.
Full back line to the fore
No part of Dublin’s game has shown greater improvement through the qualifiers than the full-back line. Gilroy made the right call in keeping faith with the young trio of Michael Fitzsimons, O’Carroll, and Philip McMahon. The line is now collectively working as a unit, one which is essentially closing off route one play for opponents. Louth’s forwards were forced outside the 21 and towards the wings throughout the day because of the excellent link up play between this young trio. The line could clearly do with adding some muscle but that will come with time. As it stands this is a unit which is developing nicely and has recovered fully from its disaster again Meath last month.
Louth’s season is over but a favourable draw in Leinster next year could see this squad challenge again for a provincial title. As for Dublin little has changed. As I have said with almost every column this season, the draw will prove decisive. This team isn’t good enough to beat Kerry yet, while it remains too talented to worry about a Roscommon team which has already over-achieved this season. The only potential tie where the result would be in doubt, as Dublin can’t draw Meath, would be a potential clash with Tyrone. The Ulster Champions put in a fine performance against Monaghan but have not looked like the 2008 team all year. Tyrone certainly would be favoured but, based on 2010 performances, I expect such a tie to result in a far closer encounter than history suggests.