This was as slaughter and one that went awfully by the book. Emmet Ryan looks back on Dublin’s win over Meath in Croke Park on Sunday.
We really have to start with it…
It was the key point in my preview (paywalled), it has been the key argument with every Dublin game going back to last year, and it’s only getting crazier. Dublin have been running up insane advantages in the shot count column, in spite of a certain national broadcaster’s inability to count, and broke the 40 mark again with room to spare. Having put up 45 shots against Wexford, Dublin managed to take 46 shots against Meath on Sunday. A 50 per cent conversion rate is bang on average, and most teams stay awfully close to it, but it’s the quantity that really matters here. By half-time Dublin had 27 shots, that’s the national average for 70 mins and one more than Meath managed in the whole game. This is a great team taking analytics and utlising them in the most brutal fashion possible.
This also explains Dublin taking so many shots on goal, which has been a running debate given their tendency to take several early when it may seem more sensible to play cautiously. Jim Gavin may refer to his players by name but he uses them like assets. He has a plan, he wants it executed a certain way, and that includes taking enough shots on goal to ensure Dublin get several majors per game. It may sound like back of the napkin stuff but if Dublin score once from every four shots on goal, they are getting sufficient value (0.75 points per attempt vs 0.5 for attempts at points).
What Meath were trying to do
The order with which Dublin scored, I’ll explain what I mean later, had an impact on how long Meath stayed relevant in this match-up. The Royals, who played Dublin close in differing ways in each of the previous two provincial deciders, knew that over-commiting to defence was an awful idea. Teams which have tried to play deep against Dublin have ended up getting gassed and not putting a lot on the board. Instead they tried to take inspiration from Laois and keep bodies free to press forward.
The problems for Meath were threefold. Defensively, while it made sense not to play deep, they still needed to get supporting defenders back at speed. Instead Dublin have oodles of time to get a supporting man up in attack and open up the Royals at the back. Up front they weren’t able to stay in the shootout, mainly because of support. When Meath got into Dublin territory, the ball-carrier was either forced to create his own shot or off-load to player with a far more difficult opportunity at their disposal. Oh, that reminds me, good time to point out Rob Carroll’s list of hot zones for shooting for both teams over 4 years up to but not including Sunday’s game.
Meath were taking an awful lot of shots from red and yellow patches and what few they got in the green usually involved the shooter being covered.
Where Dublin need work
The few times Meath were able to get bodies in support were when they went long towards the Dublin full-back line. High balls, and not exactly surgically targeted ones at that, caused some grief for the Dublin last line as it was the one area where Meath could isolate Dublin defenders. Meath’s goal and their disallowed effort were both created from such iso situations. Regarding the disallowed goal, that was a poor call by the referee not to allow advantage but in the wider picture it really matters little.
Or do they?
That’s because Dublin are playing high and sticking to their system. If Meath couldn’t create a shot immediately from an isolation situation, Gavin’s cavalry within moments. The weakness in Dublin’s last line could well be a calculated risk by Gavin. By leaving the full backs isolated under high balls, he’s essentially able to keep the rest of his defence further from goal and more prepared to launch a counter attack. This isn’t a fellation of a good team, it’s looking at the nature of the weakness. High balls are great as part of an attack but you can’t win over 70 minutes with one mode of attack.
Teams like Conor Counihan’s Cork of 2010-2012 (the 2013 edition didn’t have much success with the tactic) used the high ball to open up other avenues of attack, Dublin are keeping them closed and trusting their last line to keep the overall efforts of opponents down. Dublin’s goal is in part to frustrate but, above all else, to tire out opponents.
And that’s where we get to the order of Dublin’s scoring. Gavin’s charges shot at about their typical rate but, as would be expected, their frequency of shooting and accuracy varied over the course of the game. Dublin managed 1-6 from their opening 12 shots, not incredible, but with Meath opening 2 of 7 it was more than ample to stretch the game early. Laois shot with greater frequency than Dublin early while Wexford, while behind on shot count, were marginally more accurate. That kept both games relevant for longer but still ended with convincing wins for Gavin’s side.
Dublin are really good, that’s not a shock, but when a team is setting historical shooting marks in what appears to be a down year overall and the top end of the championship it doesn’t make for a great summer. Essentially, for a team to be competitive they have to find a way to slow down Dublin’s attack while still shooting the lights out and putting up far more efforts than normal. That’s not impossible but it’s really improbable, and really improbable is pretty bad for the neutral viewer.
As for Meath, there’s no question this will be a huge mental blow and now they have to take on an Armagh team that is playing smart football. Their defence is a world away from last year and it’s going to be tough for the Royals to create shots. On the upside, they have a fortnight to recover. That’s pretty much the start and end of the upside.
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