Dublin – Brilliantly Boring
Things have changes a lot in Dublin G.A.A. in six years. Down in Fagan’s after the game yesterday two different true as blue Dubs as you could meet commented to me something along the lines that by half time you were thinking “it’s a shame we got the goal so early” i.e. in terms of making some sort of contest out of the game.
Do you remember the disappointment around the 2010 semi-final loss to Cork, when Dublin almost broke their fifteen year old All-Ireland final duck? We went into collective hysterics a year later when we beat Donegal to reach our first final in sixteen years.
Now, hardcore supporters are almost hoping we don’t take too early a lead, so there might be a bit of a contest – even against what had been a machine like efficient Tyrone side up until Sunday.
We’ve now had five championship games in a row where Dublin fans in the stands have been surreally bored by the second half, if not earlier.
When people asked me what I thought yesterday after the game, I could only think of two words to sum it all up – “brilliantly boring”.
The Dubs have come to be to Gaelic football what the Spanish soccer team had evolved to being when they won the Euros in 2012.
Their tiki-taka football had become so brilliant that they completely changed how football had been ever been played. They became the first ever renowned side to play without a striker as such. They could weave through opposition defences with such brilliance and technique that they didn’t need one.
They didn’t need to play cutting balls. They didn’t need to make mazey runs down the wing. They were good enough to pass the ball in triangles from one end to the other.
Their detractors claimed that they had become boring to watch. You certainly had to appreciate the finer points of passing football to appreciate it, but you couldn’t deny that only they could do it because they were so brilliant.
When Jim Gavin took up the Dublin job in 2013, with attacking at lightning pace off the kick-out being the fulcrum of the whole game-plan, all the while defending man-on-man, we were treated to arguably the most entertaining game in modern football history when they beat Kerry in the semis on their way to lifting Sam.
But tactics evolved and after the 2014 defeat to Donegal, Jim Gavin changed the game again. The reality is that this Dublin side, three years on, are significantly tactically and systematically, not to mention somewhat individually, superior to what they were then.
They no longer rely heavily on “Plan” A of counter-attacking at pace. They can still do it, but as mass defending has become more efficient, Gavin understood that “Plan B” had to be more mechanical.
As Alan Brogan recently said, after 2014 Jim Gavin became obsessed with breaking down the blanket defence. You can tell.
It may not be as exciting as the way the Dubs were taking down teams three seasons ago, but it is significantly more brilliant.
I believe that Jimmy McGuinness got out at the right time. I believe that if, hypothetically, you could put the 2014 Donegal team against the current Dublin team, now three years more evolved, it would probably be nigh on impossible for McGuinness to get the tactical upper hand. The manner in which this side attacks now is just far too advanced.
On Sunday, they brought the most efficient defence in the country to its knees with the most methodical “pick and poke” football you could imagine.
I had speculated in my preview that the big question would be if Dublin could break down this Tyrone defence which was far less likely that Monaghan or Kildare to cough up scores where no man had to be taken on and beaten on order to get the shot off.
Without having gone back over the video, my initial assessment was that two Dublin scores at most were scored where Dublin were gifted the opportunity by poor defensive positioning or technical know-how. At least 2-15 came off the back of taking on and breaking down Tyrone’s blanket defence.
They just hold the ball and hold the ball, running over and back at angles until they create a high percentage chance at scoring. And if they don’t create the high percentage shot? They hold it and hold it some more!
Many of Tyrone’s shots on Sunday looked like they were 50/50 shots at best. Every time Dublin shot, you sensed that they had bode their time to create a significantly higher than 50/50 chance.
It may not be providing us with the romantic spectacles that it did three and four years ago, but it’s their brilliance allows only they to play with this level of high scoring attacking efficiency.
By Stephen O’Meara
Photos courtesy of Kieron O’Brien