Portlaoise take on Ballymun Kickhams in the Leinster Club Final on Sunday. Emmet Ryan breaks down the tactical factors that will decide the fourth and final provincial final of the season.
Ballymun will look to start fast
While Paul Curran’s charges are built from the back, Ballymun have shown a tendency to look to get off to quick starts in attack. Built from a counter-attacking structure, Kickhams don’t waste time in opposition territory and look to create a chance quickly. This is particularly true in the opening quarter where speed of movement takes priority over ball-retention. The challenge for Portlaoise’s defence will be in containing this quick-strike attack.
In terms of organisation, Portlaoise’s defence is sound. Their distribution at the back is smooth and the Laois champions cover well. The concern is in their susceptability to counter-attacks. While turnovers were a bigger factor on the scoreboard for their last opponents, Emmet Óg Killoe, the one time the Longford champions made a counter-attacking move they found huge holes and scored a goal. Much like Barry McGuigan, Kickhams are aggressive counter-punchers and will constantly look to create such gaps at the back.
A question of risk
While the defensive movement of Portlaoise is smooth, their attack is nowhere near as efficient. Despite possessing substantial attacking threats, particularly Bruno McCormick, the Laois champions don’t show much control in moving the ball among their forwards. On Sunday they come up against an opponent that will pack its own half. With Ballymun looking to counter, the temptation will be to keep men back and not try and press this alignment. Kilmacud Crokes however showed that overloading in attack can contain Ballymun’s arsenal.
In the Dublin Final, Crokes were forced into this strategy out of necessity as they trailed Ballymun by such a margin that they had no option but to go all out in attack. Were Portlaoise to take this approach from the start it would appear bold. In fact it may prove the more sensible approach. Allowing Ballymun to play the game in their own half would be to play into the Dublin champions’ hands. By bringing numbers forward, to match the defensive wall, Portlaoise could potentially be more efficient up front and starve the Kickhams’ attack. Deadspin posted a good analogy in American Football that you all should read. A conservative approach yields little reward in such circumstances. Going heavy on attack only carries a slight increase in risk but a substantially higher pay-off if it works.
The Rock question
While possessing several capable forwards, Ballymun’s attack is heavily reliant on Dean Rock. Portlaoise have a couple of options in how they go about containing Rock. The most natural option would be to assign Brian Mulligan to cover him in a straight match-up. Cahir Healy however is one of the finest man-markers in the game and may prove more adept at handling Rock. Such an assignment would limit Healy’s contribution elsewhere in defence but may limit Kickhams’ attack. Rock’s positioning is not set in stone, meaning neither option may prove optimal. Having started as a particularly high target-man in the Dublin Final, Rock moved out nearer the 45. There’s no right answer to this question and Portlaoise will likely have to adapt as the game goes on. Their decision at the start of the game could prove crucial as Rock will be fundamental to Ballymun’s efforts to start fast.
In terms of experience Portlaoise have the edge but schematically Ballymun look stronger. Portlaoise’s natural game-plan looks suited to the Dublin champions and they will have to make adjustments to compete. On a personnel front this contest looks about even but Ballymun have a significant edge on the bench, with a deep and young panel capable of changing the tempo as the game wears on. Kickhams to win.
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