Physical but ineffective start by Rhode
Having seen Crokes out-muscle their opponents in the earlier stages of the competition, Rhode came out hitting hard early. A physical approach can reap dividends when well-executed, the Offaly Champions however went about implementing it in the worst way possible. A soft free is when the referee calls a free for minimal contact, an easy free is when the defender makes a needless blatant foul. Rhode gave up three easy frees in scoring position early. Crokes converted the first two to take an early lead.
Before the game I stressed that Rhode needed to start well and build up a lead to defend given Kilmacud’s huge depth advantage. This needless fouling gave the Dublin champions a cushion that eased the impact of a blow that would soon come.
Goal highlights problem (singular) in defence for Crokes
Much like 2008, Rhode enjoyed a purple patch early in the game that put Crokes on the back foot. A confusion of assignments between Ross O’Carroll and Kevin Nolan was exploited and Pascal Kelleghan exploited from a pure route one ball in. All the injury problems and issues with player availability haven’t really affected the talent level on the park, such is the depth of Kilmacud’s squad, but increasingly players are finding themselves in unfamiliar roles and Rhode were able to catch them out a couple of times as a result. The same problem would lead to Rhode’s penalty later as confusion over assignments forced Crokes’ to concede a spot kick. Before explaining how Crokes overcame this glitch, it’s worth noting the excellent work by David Nestor after he saved the initial effort from the spot. Nestor was alert enough to make a finger-tip save on the follow up effort, a crucial act late in the game.
Crokes step up a notch
As the first half wore on, Crokes steadily came back into the game, cutting Rhode’s lead to a single point by the break. After scoring 1-5 in the first 17 minutes, the Offaly champions managed just 2 points in the last 43 minutes of the game. Much like 2008 their forwards were found out by Crokes’ defenders. While some players were out of position, the fundamental tactic of suffocating ball forcing Rhode attackers to the wings was familiar. After an exceptionally accurate start to the game, Rhode’s forwards were forced to take low-percentage shots or else were crowded off the ball. This feat of defensive dominance included a 27 minute spell where Rhode failed to register a single score.
With the pressure effectively off, Crokes were methodical in attack. This was not one of their better days in terms of accuracy but their dominance was such that this profligacy wasn’t a factor. Declan Kelleher (and there’s no g TG4, sort that out) and Brian Kavanagh had oodles of room to work. It wasn’t a frenetic high paced attack, instead Crokes simply overwhelmed their opponents at a comfortable tempo. The penalty drama aside, there was no stage from the moment Crokes took the lead that the result looked in doubt.
Rhode were really disappointing. It wasn’t just that they were predictable, the Offaly champions lacked organisation and looked much rustier than Crokes. Both of these teams haven’t played in almost two months but it was the Dublin team that woke up faster. The attacking spurt from Rhode did little in the end but put a gloss on the score. This was comfortably the most impressive performance by Kilmacud since the Dublin County Final and should make them heavy favourites for the All Ireland Semi Final with Crossmaglen.