We need to talk about Bernard
Bernard Brogan had his most comfortable game in a Dublin jersey since winning Footballer of the Year in 2010. Even more impressive, he didn’t have Eoghan O’Gara to help. When Brogan won that top honour he benefitted greatly from O’Gara’s target man role, drawing coverage away from Dublin’s chief marksman. O’Gara’s distribution, an under-rated aspect of his game, also served Brogan well in that 2010 season. For the two years since then, with O’Gara either playing hurt or not in the side consistently, Brogan’s game has suffered. He has still managed to put up decent tallies but his role became far too predictable, even in Dublin’s All-Ireland winning season of 2011. Jim Gavin’s adjustments this season seem to be having an early impact on Brogan, allowing him freedom to perform in a more diverse role.
Brogan is far more effective as a creator first. The scoring threat remains but the corner-forward was eager to find open men throughout this match-up. Defenders didn’t know what the Oliver Plunketts-Eoghan Ruadh man was going to do on the ball. Despite opening the game in a scoring vein, with three points in the game’s first 16 minutes, Brogan quickly adjusted into being the man who made scoring chances. On 20 minutes he put Michael Darragh McAuley into an open position from a line-ball and the midfielder charged towards goal to fist over from short-range. Within a minute Paddy Andrews scored off a Brogan pass. Paul Mannion and Paddy Quinn were both targeted by Brogan in separate moves on 24 minutes. Andrews was once again the beneficiary of Brogan’s invention as he scored in first-half injury time. While Brogan’s creative influence subsided after the break, he remained unpredictable throughout. When a natural scorer doesn’t hold a shoot-first role, he becomes far more trouble for defences to deal with.
Dublin’s passing game
Brogan’s improvement was indicative of the broader changes brought by Gavin to Dublin’s attacking strategy. Kick-passing, based on limited early evidence, is being used in a ball-retention capacity. Quinn, Diarmuid Connolly, Paul Flynn, and Jack McCaffrey were amongst the primary ball-movers. There were elements of Crossmaglen’s play in this approach, both positive and negative. While lacking the pace of the club kingpins, Dublin’s focus on kick-passing open up space all over the attacking zone. Andrews was unquestionably the chief beneficiary as he repeatedly found himself either open or in one-on-one situations where he could use his pace to create space. While hand-passing still played a key role closer to goal, it was the speed of Dublin’s distribution that hurt Cork. Frees were won closer to goal as the Rebels weren’t able to stop attacks early and it was such movement that led to Philly Ryan winning a penalty for Dublin’s lone goal of the game.
On the flipside this also led to some issues at the back. While defenders were able to join the attack faster under this system, the Rebels found space to be exploited in Dublin’s last line. Cork had several opportunities to create goal chances but most of these were snuffed out as Gavin’s charges got back in numbers. Cork’s penalty however showed what can be done when quick counter-attacks are deployed against such an approach. Donncha O’Connor’s deft flick put Ciaran Sheehan in space to attack and Dublin were forced to foul near goal. O’Connor converted the subsequent spot-kick, a rare moment of success on a rough night from dead balls for Cork.
About Cork’s free-taking
Cork’s distribution issues on the night were substantial, with John O’Rourke the only man able to repeatedly create. Even then O’Rourke spent large parts of the game isolated and unable to influence play. The Rebels however had plenty of chances from dead balls to stay competitive. Their attempts to convert left plenty to be desired. Here’s how their night went.
8 mins – O’Connor free from 32m, slightly to the left. Result: short.
19 mins – O’Connor free from 22m, out to the right. Result: short.
35 mins +6 – David Cahalane 45’, in front. Result: wide.
41 mins – Colm O’Neill free from 26m, slightly to the right. Result: wide.
46 mins – O’Connor free from 30m, in front. Result: point.
52 mins – O’Connor penalty. Result: goal.
55 mins – Aidan Walsh 45’, in front. Result: wide.
63 mins – O’Connor free from 35m, in front. Result: wide.
66 mins – O’Neill 45’, in front. Result: short.
70 mins +3 – O’Connor free from 20m, in front. Result: point.
A return of 1-2 from 10 dead balls is not great. Missing their first four chances from such situations is of far more concern. With three 45s in the mix it’s important to note that Cork were hardly awarded a string of gimmes in this game but their failure to threaten with anything other than attempts from directly in front of the uprights limited them. With their open-field attacking stuttering, frees were the best way for Cork to stay in the game on the scoreboard. With just 3 of their 10 dead balls resulting in scores, it was always going to be an uphill battle.
Duel in the front-line
O’Neill and Dublin’s Kevin O’Brien had a fascinating contest throughout the game with neither man ever truly gaining the upper hand. Of their 9 one-on-one clashes, O’Brien came out on top in 5 to O’Neill’s 4. O’Brien took 3 of their first 4 clashes but O’Neill’s lone early success kept the game alive. O’Rourke aimed a perfectly placed pass at the Cork target man who beat O’Brien to the ball and passed to the onrushing Walsh for the game’s opening goal on 12 minutes. O’Neill drew a free from the Dublin defender on 18 minutes before a lull in the action.
O’Rourke again linked up well with O’Neill on 45 minutes and their 1-2, which saw O’Neill bring O’Rourke back into the action, resulted in a free. O’Brien would get back into the contest, winning 2 of his final 3 battles with O’Neill to take the upper-hand as the game wound down. The last of which saw O’Neill called for a push in the back on the Dublin defender in the 67th minutes.
The biggest question coming out of this game was what further changes Gavin will bring? The pace of play in February allows for experimentation but Dublin will need to fill holes at the back if they are to keep this increased kick-passing approach installed. Cork were sluggish as expected in this game and it’s far too early to make any judgements. What Conor Counihan does to make the attack more dynamic will be critical to watch over the next three months.
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