Ballymun Kickhams reached their first ever All-Ireland Club Final, and slightly less importantly ended Emmet Ryan’s streak of correct predictions at 13. Here’s his take on how the Leinster champions topped Dr Crokes.
Ballymun open one door…
Ballymun’s approach in the first half was to open up space around midfield in the middle of the park in order to spread play to the flanks at speed. From there play could be redirected inside as Kickhams sought to keep the defence guessing on where the final effort on goal was going to come from. Alan Hubbard and Davy Byrne proved particularly adept at getting open to begin the chain of passes towards goal. In order to illustrate just how varied the Ballymun attack was, we have a helpful new addition to the column for this piece. For the first time ever in this column we’ve got shot charts. JCoshea put these together and thanks very much to him for letting us use them. You can expand them by clicking on the images. Here’s how the colour coding works:
Green : Point
Bright Green : Goal
Red : Save or Drop Short (Turn-over)
Blue : Block Down (or kick-able quick-free)
JC’s shot chart tell part of the story of what Ballymun were trying to do in this game. While their shots came from a decent spread of locations, there were several high balls used to open up the last line of defence. The shot chart doesn’t include wides Ballymun incurred from balls in that were clearly intended as passes that didn’t lead to scoring chances, of which there were three. Kickhams used this approach to great effect. Four high balls were sent in over the game’s opening 14 minutes, only one of which resulted in a scoring chance. While the Leinster champions didn’t score via this route, they rattled the Crokes’ defence. When the goal came it was as a result of the defence dropping off. Ted Furman received the ball in front of the 20m line, comfortably in front of John Payne who had stayed off to cover the high ball threat. Furman turned and used his speed to get past Payne before rifling into the net. The Dublin club could easily have had a second goal within two minutes. Byrne got open and offloaded to James McCarthy who subsequently sent a ball in over the top to Dean Rock in the corner. At this point in the action Rock was sucking in defenders and Ballymun were left with a man advantage inside. Rock sent the ball in towards Kevin Leahy and it took an extraordinary piece of athleticism from David Moloney to send the ball out for a 45.
…and close another
While Ballymun’s shot chart only tells part of the story, the tale of Dr Crokes’ woes is easily illustrated.
Ballymun’s objective was clear. By using extra men in defence, usually enjoying a two-man advantage at the back, they could shut the door on Dr Crokes’ creative outlets. Colm Cooper was closed down repeatedly yet still proved by far the most capable operator for the Munster champions in the opening 30 minutes. Their total of 6 shots from play in the first half was fewer than Ballymun’s tally of 7 from inside the 20m line. Critically Kickhams’ were able to cover their mistakes. If a handling error was made or a turnover given up, there was almost invariably an extra man on hand to pick up the assignment. In my video preview of this game I doubted Ballymun’s ability to close down this inside threat. In the first half the Leinster champions comfortably proved me wrong as the only time Crokes succeeded in breaking the cover was Cooper’s effort in the second minute of injury time, when two Ballymun defenders slipped as he turned back to finish from short range.
Crokes adjustments stem the tide
In the second half, Dr Crokes made substantial changes to try and limit Ballymun’s control of the game. The entire half-back line was replaced, through either substitutions or positional switches, giving at least a short-term boost in energy to their defence. Eoin Brosnan adopted a role around midfield more, freeing up Johnny Buckley to join the attack and making it harder for Kickhams to get a man open. In the short-term this was effective but as the shot-chart below indicates (to the reader’s right) the Killarney club still struggled to create from play.
Accuracy was not Ballymun’s friend in this game but the sheer number of chances they created in comparison to Dr Crokes, 29 to 21, gave them the upper hand. Crucially 16 of the Leinster champions’ opportunities came either inside the D or 20m line; Dr Crokes managed just 2 such attempts in the entire game.
The superiority of Ballymun’s defensive strategy is best displayed in where the two teams won frees. While Crokes succeed in only allowing 5 dead balls in shooting range, 3 of these came close to goal and in front of the posts, effectively gifting Ballymun points. Kickhams on the other hand gave up 10 dead balls but all of them were outside optimum range. As a result Dr Crokes only managed to convert one, via the boot of Daithi Casey, and it was comfortably the easiest chance they had in the game.
Dr Crokes came into this game with a strong attacking pedigree but having scored 0-19 in their Munster Final win over Castlehaven, they barely managed to match that number with their total shots against Ballymun. Playing two sweepers between the defensive lines allowed Ballymun to dictate the direction of play in their own half and that direction was away from goal and to the flanks. While Dr Crokes managed to make some use of distance shooting, they simply weren’t creating the chances inside to trouble Ballymun. By contrast the Dublin club was able to control where their attacks went via the control of Hubbard and Byrne. An 11 of 29 return doesn’t look pretty but the sheer weight of pressure being brought by Kickhams at both ends gave them breathing room to survive their inconsistent shooting. This victory sets up a clash with St Brigid’s, another team built around a well-organised defence. Ballymun likely have fewer adjustments to make strategically than their opponents in Croke Park but that won’t make the task any easier. The stage is set for an epic chess match on St Patrick’s Day.
Note: This weekend my girlfriend’s away which is good news if you like my videos. There will definitely be a Tactics Board episode on St Brigid’s and Dr Crokes. I’m hoping to have one of this game too.
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