Croke’s Redemption as they put Rivals Boden to the Sword
By Stephen O’Meara
Kilmacud Croke’s 1-14 – 0-9 Ballyboden St. Enda’s
Saturday evening gave us the starkest evidence of just how strong the Dublin Senior Football Championship is when the All-Ireland Champions, Ballyboden, were not alone beaten, but beaten by a score-line few would have predicted, 1-14 to 0-9 : by a Croke’s side who haven’t been past the second round since 2012!
After three frustrating seasons, Croke’s are back in the big league. It will be all the more satisfying that it was Boden, who beat them in the second round in 2015 and 2013, they’ve slain to get there.
In truth, the score-line probably reflects quite harshly on Boden who were level with twenty minutes remaining and found themselves reverting to a rushed style of play, including some poor long balls, which didn’t do them justice late on. Saying that, excluding a couple of points garnered from defensive mix ups from Croke’s kick-outs during a five minute passage in the second half, Croke’s were the thoroughly dominant side in the second half.
For all of that, Boden will also rue missed goal chances which could have put an entirely different complexion on the game. On four occasions they were within touching distance of goal, once within a hair’s breadth. In the end, however, it was the soccer experience and savvy of Dublin star, Paul Mannion, which recorded the game’s solitary goal.
With the benefit of hindsight, it was this goal, as well as two of David Nestor’s saves between the Croke’s sticks, which could be marked out as the key points of the game, Mannion’s goal a turning point, Nestor’s saves which might have been.
After an even opening, Croke’s had the misfortune of seeing the ball come back off the upper post and land in the lap of the Ballyboden forward, Andrew Kerin, who appeared to have nothing to do but place it home. Kerin, appearing not to have done much wrong, surely mustn’t have believed his eyes as Nestor managed as memorable a save as your likely to see, by showing great agility to get a low foot to the ball and tip it around the post.
This goal chance aside, the game appeared more or less even for the opening twenty minutes, but by the time Boden took a 0-5 to 0-3 lead with a Conal Keaney point in the 24th minute, Boden appeared to be taking control.
Just minutes earlier, Croke’s had forced a turnover in their half back line, the kind of textbook scenario from which you’d expect to see a lighting counter-attack. With so many behind the ball, however, and with Boden so organised at the back, the man on the ball had no choice but to turn back and play a possession game in their own defence.
Keaney’s point, Boden’s fifth, on the other hand, was the second time in as many attacks that Boden had carried the ball through the centre at pace and played the ball into a man on man attack.
Boden may well have felt they were beginning to take control of the game at this point, but it all changed in the blink of an eye. A high ball was played into Paul Mannion, who up to that point was being well-marshalled at the back, and appeared to be on this occasion too. Giving Mannion the benefit of the doubt, we’ll assume he brilliantly touched the high ball to the ground, keeping his body between the ball and his man. On the ground, he summoned all of his soccer instinct with a beautifully deft touch over the advancing keeper to drop just under the bar at the far post.
Going in 1-4 to 0-6 down at the break, having been close to goal on three occasions, Boden may well have felt that Crokes’ goal was a temporary glitch. Things would prove very differently, however.
After Nestor made another “one on one” stop, this time from Darragh Nelson, two minutes into the second half, Croke’s would wrestle the game overwhelmingly in their favour. Their “man on man”, high pressing game which can balance the dynamics of a game on a knife edge, began to pay off.
It was notable that centre back, Ross McGowan, sometimes pushed high up the field to remain man on man on Colm Basquel. On occasions in the first half, without a sitting centre back, this had left them somewhat exposed at the back. With the conductor of Boden’s forward orchestra under tight wraps, however, they began to struggle to have any penetrative impact on the sturdy Croke’s defence.
From there on in it was all Croke’s. On occasions, they pressed high and forced turnovers, while on other occasions they sat off. The revival of Mark Vaughan’s club career under manager, Gabriel Bannigan, looked a master stroke. With four pacey forwards, not to mention Craig Dias at midfield, complimenting the less youthful but highly methodical play of Vaughan at full forward and Longford’s Brian Kavanagh at centre forward (and in turn former Dublin panelist, Pat Burke), they began to completely dominate.
Credit to their management team led by Gabriel Bannigan. He had his homework done meticulously. Increasingly choking off Boden’s oxygen source of the quick, short kick-out, while still frequently manoeuvring a spare man at the back, they forced Boden to go long on the majority of their kick-outs.
In total, they would score five points and concede just one from these long Boden kicks! Fail to prepare, prepare to fail! Not that Ballyboden manager, Gerry McEntee’s wasn’t, but Bannigan’s preparation was meticulous and it paid dividends (see our stats and technical article on Wednesday for a more detailed look at this).
With Mannion beginning to have a greater impact up front, Boden were forced into giving away two frees which saw Croke’s go into a 1-6 to 0-6 lead. What appeared to be a Ballyboden revival shortly afterwards, was in fact, only a glitch. Three quick points, two directly from Crokes’ attempts at short kick-outs, saw Boden draw back level before Croke’s knew what had happened.
From here on in, however, it was all Croke’s as they began to literally over-run Boden. With the likes of corner back, Cillain O’Shea, getting up field to chip in with scores, and with their aerial dominance on Boden’s kick-outs for a period, Croke’s were rampant for the final twenty minutes. They would score the last eight points of the game. Indeed they could have had a goal or two more had it not been for last gasp interventions, both legal and illegal!
Trailing by 1-12 to 0-9 with three minutes left on the clock, Boden had one final opportunity to stem the tide when, Nestor in goals, lost possession outside his own “21”. A superb, keeper like, save from Rory O’Carroll on the line, however, put paid to that chance. It should really have resulted in a penalty, as not having a keeper’s shirt on his back, he’s not entitled to handle the ball on the ground. Still and all, it was a great stop.
Saying that, Boden could have no complaints. They were lucky not to have had Dublin star, Michael Darragh Macauley, sent off ten minutes earlier after he struck his man in the ribs, off the ball, after the mildest of provocation. Under what interpretation of the rules the linesman advised the referee to yellow card Macauley, I can only speculate. Albeit, a cheeky rather than malicious strike, at the very least, it qualified as “striking with minimal force”.
In the end, after Boden’s final throw of the dice, O’Carroll’s keeper like stop, Croke’s would kick the last two scores to run out impressive 1-14 to 0-9 winners. This victory surely puts them in the top three contenders at the quarter-final stage, along with Vincent’s and Ballymun. Beating the All-Ireland champions by eight points, they may well fancy it makes them as the top contenders.
KILMACUD CROKES: David Nestor, James Murphy, Ross O’Carroll, Andy McGowan; Aidan Jones, Ross McGowan, Cillian O’Shea, Craig Dias, David Campbell, Tom Fox, Paul Mannion, Callum Pearson, Mark Vaughan, Brian Kavanagh, Shane Cunningham. Subs: Pat Burke, Cian O’Connor, Conor Casey, DarrenMagee, Ronan Ryan, Shane Horan
Scorers : Mark Vaughan 0-8 (0-6 frees), Paul Mannion 1-2 (0-1 free), Cillian O’Shea 0-1, Aidan Jones 0-1, Andy McGowan 0-1, Callum Pearson 0-1
Ballyboden St. Enda’s: Darragh Gogan, Shane Clayton, Stephen Hiney, Robbie McDaid, Cathal Flaherty, Darragh Nelson, Shane Durkin, Declan O’Mahoney, Michael D Macauley, Darren O’Reilly, Colm Basquel, Aran Waters, Ryan Basquel, Conal Keaney, Andrew Kerin. Subs: Alan Flood, Barra McGarry , Sam Moloney, Donogh McCabe
Scorers : Conal Keaney 0-4 (0-2 frees), Andrew Kerin 0-2 (0-2 frees), Colm Basquel, 0-1, Declan O’Mahony 0-1, Barra McGarry 0-1.
Don’t miss our Stats Attack article tomorrow (Wednesday) where we break the game down statistically with still images to show where Croke’s won the game