A dominant first-half display was enough to carry Ballymun Kickhams to their first Dublin title since 1985 on Monday night. Emmet Ryan breaks down the tactical factors that led to their victory over Kilmacud Crokes.
Kickhams play a quick-strike game
Ballymun came out looking to score fast and let their defence take the brunt of the workload. The Kickhams’ forwards were in no mood to hang around the Crokes half, looking to finish moves quickly. Ballymun’s formation reflected this approach. Dean Rock initially and latterly Shane Forde played a high role almost on the Crokes square while the bulk of Ballymun’s players sat deep in their own territory.
Rock made full use of this role early, having a goal chance saved in the 2nd minute before popping over the rebound. A second Ballymun goal-chance on 6 minutes, from Ted Furman, hit the cross-bar before going over. Kickhams wouldn’t have to wait long to find the net as Kevin Leahy sent in a quick high-ball to Forde who fisted home on 9 minutes. All of these chances came on counter-attacks and indeed the only score Mun recorded in the first half that didn’t was Rock’s 45 on 12 minutes. Time and again the Northside club sought to break from deep. The best example came on 22 minutes. Kickhams broke up-field after Adrian Morrissey dropped a Ballymun kick-out. James McCarthy took possession and left Pat Duggan trailing in his wake before setting up Leahy for the finish.
The speed in Ballymun’s attack was balanced by their steady play at the back. With such a deep defence, Kickhams were able to slow Kilmacud’s attack down. The Stillorgan club was already struggling with distribution. Ballymun’s decision to play a man near the Kilmacud square meant Crokes didn’t have an ideal shape coming out from the back. This slowed play and led to Kilmacud players running into walls as they entered Ballymun territory.
There was little surprising about the Crokes attack and Ballymun were able to get bodies over to limit scoring chances. Kilmacud managed just one score on the break in the first half, an opportunistic score from Kevin Nolan off a Ballymun kick-out on 26 minutes. For the rest of the half, the Crokes’ forwards were left slogging to carve out unfavourable chances. Paul Mannion, who started the game brightly, was smothered as the half wore on. His nadir came in first half injury time as Mannion was closed down in the left corner without an outlet available and no room to shoot. Kickhams turned the ball over with ease and went in up 6 at the break.
High pressing brings Crokes back into it
With Ballymun committed to a counter-attacking game, Crokes adjusted their attack to embrace Kickhams’ willingness to sit back and soak up pressure. The Stillorgan club poured men forward, as much out of necessity as design, as they sought to claw back the deficit. Craig Dias and Pat Burke flourished as they used their strength to take advantage of more one-on-one situations. Dias was the primary creator for Crokes while Burke finished repeatedly at speed. Burke had three shots in the first three minutes of the half, converting two of them and Dias was involved in both scores. Burke’s personal tally of 0-4 in the first 14 minutes of the second half cut the deficit to just two points as Ballymun’s attack faltered.
With Crokes overloading on attack, Kickhams were ostensibly suited to maintaining their counter-attacking game by taking advantage of lighter cover in the Kilmacud half. The Ballymun attack however was slowed by the inability of their defence to move the ball into opposition territory quickly. This led to a 15 minute spell to start the second half where Kickhams failed to score, with the run eventually being ended by Rock.
Ballymun counter and go back to what worked
Elliott Reilly dropped back into a sweeper role towards the end of the game as Ballymun attempted to slow the Crokes comeback. By adding Reilly at the back and pushing their half-backs out, Kickhams were able to force Crokes to commit fewer men into Ballymun territory. Kilmacud was still getting players up in numbers when on the attack but Mun now had more room to break from the back and get it to their danger men.
This adjustment was enough to get Kickhams over the finish line. Two quick passing moves would lead to points on 55 and 57 minutes, pushing Ballymun two scores clear. Crokes would score the final three points of the match but Kickhams held on to end a 27 year title drought.
Crokes were caught cold early and fell into a big hole as a result. Bereft of ideas in both defence and attack, Kilmacud looked in trouble at the break. Having turned around an even greater deficit in the semi-final, a comeback was always likely in the second half. Crokes responded by targeting Ballymun’s strengths, in the process choking out the attacking supply for the Northside club. Though their comeback slowed later in the half, the Stillorgan club did enough to get back in the fight but their opening half maladies were too much to overcome.
Ballymun will have plenty to be pleased with in this performance, not least a first senior county tile since 1985. The first-half approach held elements of both Donegal and Crossmaglen, with the speed of attack used by both outfits a vital component of Kickhams’ game. While it took Mun a quarter of an hour to respond to Crokes’ second-half adjustments, when they made changes it proved sufficient to win the day. The next step will be in Mullingar where home-town Shamrocks await. Like Ballymun, their opponents ended a long drought in lifting county honours but the newly crowned Dublin champions have the tools to hang around deep into winter.
Tactics not Passion: The book
Tactics not Passion, the book, is now available to order. The book tells the story a year in tactics from Sam to Sam and features several chapters looking at developments with the Dublin Senior, Under 21, and Minor Football teams. Order your copy here.
We welcome and encourage all comments.
Follow Emmet Ryan on Twitter.