Blues own the middle
Newtown Blues dominated kick outs all day, giving them a natural possession edge in the middle of the park. It was however their pressing approach in the middle third which proved the more dominant factor in the opening 30 minutes.
Playing into a stiff breeze, the Blues managed to remove the wind as a factor by choking the supply lines for the Pats. With narrow gaps between the two 45s, Drogheda’s pitch being noticeably short by county ground standards, the tactic of placing 8 or 9 players in this box proved most effective in the early going. The numbers game freed up Stephen Moonan to lead attacks down the right flank. Despite the Pats building a narrow lead early, the flow of the game saw the Blues become more dominant as the half progressed. The pay-off came in a five minute spell that saw them notch up 1-2, half their tally on the day.
A John Kermode penalty on 26 minutes gave Newtown the only major of the day. The goal didn’t set the tone as much as it reflected the Blues physical superiority as play shifted further towards St Patrick’s end of the field. The two points either side of that score were the attack highlights of the match for Newtown.
The first came in the 24th minute as Kermode struck a cross-field pass from the right flank on the Pat’s 45, splitting the banks of defenders to find Keith Lynch who turned and shot from 30 metres for a point. The score after Kermode’s goal also made use of a cross-field ball to create space. Conor Branagan passed from just inside his own half near the left sideline to Andy McDonnell on the Pat’s 45. McDonnell soloed inside before kicking over.
Long range shooting woes hamper Blues
For all their success in removing the wind as a factor, the Blues made one unforgivable tactical error. Throughout the game, but particularly in the first half when faced with that strong wind, they opted to go for scores from long range frees with almost no return.
It’s not just that they missed, they missed badly. Frees and 45s dropped short as much as they went wide and the conditions clearly called for a more varied approach. The odd ball into the square or short pass to keep the defence honest was definitely called for. The persistence with long range efforts eventually paid off late in the second half when Kermode, who had been overly ambitious in his efforts from distance, completed a move created by Cormac Reynolds and Lynch as he kicked over from just inside the 45 to level matters late.
A passing problem
Passing, or rather the approach both teams took to it, was an issue throughout the game. With midfield crowded, both sides developed play laterally inside their own territory. The approach switched when moving the ball into attack as, more often than not, the two sides opted for direct long balls into contested situations. With backs outnumbering forwards, this proved a ineffective strategy.
Notably the long passes that succeeded, for both sides, looked to split the defensive lines. Had either the Blues or the Pats opted to play a more patient game going forward, they could have opened up holes to create scoring opportunities.
The Pats change the flow
The wind died down in the second half but the turnaround in St Patrick’s fortunes benefitted more from a change in style. Much like the Blues in the opening period, the Pats pushed bodies into the middle third to try and create a more pressing game. The most direct result was an increase in attacking opportunities, with one player in particular benefiting from the increased support going forward.
Keenan crucial in attack
Paddy Keenan being the most important player on the pitch for the Pats would surprise no-one. The level to which his attacking contribution outweighed his defensive duties was however of considerable note. Keenan was unquestionably the most potent attacker for St Patrick’s and he played much further forward that a traditional midfielder.
The Pats attack was clearly designed with this in mind as while they lacked an abundance of natural scorers, they were well drilled in supplying Keenan in favourable positions to score. The Pats claimed their first lead of the second half on 46 minutes when Aidan McCann fed Keenan slightly to the right of goal on the 21, who duly made a quick stop and shot to edge St Patrick’s in front.
The finest attacking move by Pats on the day didn’t result in a score but still merits attention. Yet again it was a cross-field ball that created a gap in defence. Keenan made an excellent delivery to Eoin O’Connor who had the angle to go one-on-one with Stephen McCann in the Blues’ goal. O’Connor’s effort produced a fine save from Carroll but it highlighted the frailties of an over-crowded defensive strategy.
This could have been a much better game. The pressure of playing in a county final may have played some role but the wealth of experience on the pitch and in the management teams should have been sufficient to deliver a better game. Both teams will look at areas where they can in prove, both in decision making and in play.
The approach to passing and developing attacks needs to become more varied. Long balls became too predictable and both sets of defenders were able to close down and deny space for attacks close to goal. Greater variety of passing and movement could stretch the back lines and open up space.
Pressing strategies played a big role in this but, as we saw in some notable examples above, over-crowding always leaves some gaps. In the 44th minute the Blues attacked the Pats goal and there were 19 players within a 10 metre area around the 21 metre line. There was a stalemate of movement and the attack came to nothing.
There is plenty for both camps to think about ahead of the replay, the date for which hasn’t been announced yet, enough to hope for some interesting adjustments the next time these sides meet.
I will try to cover the replay however the date of that game will have a massive impact on whether I do or not.
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