Desperate distribution stymies Crokes
As with so many games this season, Kilmacud Crokes’ passing was terrible early on. This was a particularly awful display as the Stillorgan team made a series of misjudged or over-hit passes to repeatedly turn over possession or take the sting out of their attacks. The best single example came late in the first half as Liam Óg Ó hÉineacháin wholly misjudged a pass to Ross O’Carroll. Rory McGowan intercepted for Garrycastle and he delivered to Shane Mulvihill to pop over his side’s sixth point of the game.
When Crokes actually managed to complete a pass in within range of the posts it usually led to a score. All 5 of Crokes’ scores can from play in the first half and all were assisted.
By contrast Garrycastle made few errors in possession during the first half. Twice they scored thanks to overlaps created by pulling corner forward Shane Mulvihill back into the half-back line, moving the ball quickly up the left flank.
Duggan destructive and dominant
For all of Crokes’ issues in moving the ball and Garrycastle’s paucity of mistakes at the back, the Westmeath champions only went into the break with a two point lead having created just one more scoring chance.
It was Crokes’ dominance in the middle third that kept it close at half-time. While their forwards were failing to consistently string a series of passes together, they were at least doing a solid job in aiding the midfielders dominate between the 45s. Not that they seemed to need much assistance. Paddy Duggan played a decisive role in Sunday’s game. Aside from proving the best individual ball-winner on the day, it was his ability to break up Garrycastle’s play that kept the Stillorgan team in touch in the opening period.
The midfielder’s success points to the depth that has allowed Crokes to stay in contention despite having so many injury problems throughout the season. Duggan wasn’t getting a sniff of a starting position in midfield a few months back but injuries and absences have opened up the opportunity and he’s filled in well. He remained a menacing presence through the second half as the Westmeath team struggled for air.
Garrycastle struggle to create in second half
Despite holding the lead at the break, Garrycastle faced a daunting prospect after the break. No team at this level maintains a passing game as poor as Crokes’ for the full 60 minutes and sure enough the Dublin champions were a lot sharper moving the ball straight after the resumption. This meant Garrycastle would need to find ways to win the battle they lost in the middle third during the opening period while maintaining the accuracy that saw them lead by two at the break.
They failed miserably. Having converted 7 of 8 scoring chances in the opening 30 minutes, Garrycastle went 10 full minutes before getting their first opportunity of the second half. They managed to convert their first three, thanks to two frees. The Kilmacud defence was eventually able to force the game to the flanks, forcing Garrycastle’s forwards to shoot from unfavourable angles. They closed out the game with three straight wides, all from the right side being over-hit around the left post.
Crokes control tempo
With Niall Corkery unavailable, Craig Dias started at midfield with Pat Burke dropping back to left-half forward and Mark Vaughan starting in the left corner. While Dias was limited in the first half, both he and Burke were at the centre of Kilmacud’s efforts to control the pace of the game, using physical play to slow Garrycastle’s breaks while using the speed of the half-forward line to accelerate in attack.
Vaughan justified his inclusion in a starting role by serving up 3 assists, each to a different player, in addition to his lone point from play. Vaughan’s injury history made his inclusion as a starter, as opposed to the impact sub role he has enjoyed in recent games, a risk but one that proved to be worth taking.
The improved performance by his supporting cast, and they very much were that today, allowed Brian Kavanagh to once again dominate in the front line. The target man finished with 6 points, including 4 from play, and 2 assists. Kavanagh’s dominance in the air and subsequent versatility in how he converted possession into scores made him particularly threatening and, along with Duggan, critical to the Dublin team’s victory.
For all the problems both teams had in creating attacking moves, there was no shortage of link-up play when forwards got the opportunity. All 15 of the scores from play on Sunday were assisted, including 10 by Crokes. Comparatively, the Dublin county final had just 8 total assists and Crokes meeting with Portlaoise had just 6. While the sample is small* it is indicative of the flow of the play in this game. Whereas the Stillorgan team’s two previous games saw more scores come from place balls or broken play, this match demanded more cohesive forward play at both ends. When players were isolated and forced to work alone, the defences closed in resulting ill-timed efforts.
*A hazard that is to be expected when working off a stat that hasn’t traditionally been recorded.
Decision making was certainly an issue for Crokes today. Ó hÉineacháin endured more troubles in this regard than most. While he managed 1 point and 1 assist, he was too trigger happy with three efforts from long range dropping short into the goalkeeper’s hands and another shot from far out going wide. On each occasion there were options available, where a more patient approach would have proved more likely to yield a score. The biggest area of concern however remains in passing.
Strength in depth, efficiency in attack, and stout defence has enabled the Dublin champions to win in spite of the plethora of cheap turnovers they have made throughout their run. In a single-elimination competition it is simply unreasonable to assume these strengths will pull them through every time. Tighter and more focussed distribution is vital if the Dublin champions are to regain the Leinster title when they face Rhode in Portlaoise on 5 December.