Dublin vs Carlow Analysis : Defensive Frailties Could Cost Dublin

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In my article on (click for article) I pointed out a couple of worrying patterns which sprung up from Saturday’s game with Carlow.

Most notably, Dublin conceded a score or scoreable free on each of the three short kick-outs which Carlow played to their full back line. Considering the fact that Dublin didn’t make a massive effort to prevent them to begin with, that’s a pretty worrying pattern.

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Dublin were set up man-on-man but didn’t make a serious effort to prevent the short kick-out

None of these three kicks were hit quickly to the full back line, and Dublin were perfectly well set up to defend with fifteen behind the ball on each occasion.

Most notably, this follows on from conceding five points from ten such kick-outs against Kerry in the semi-final last year!

All in all, these two games allude to a bigger issue. Dublin’s awesome ability to attack is covering up the fact that, as a defensive unit, there are serious problems.

If you can’t stop Carlow from consistently creating scoring chances when you allow them the short kick-out and have fifteen behind the ball, never mind Kerry, there could be trouble lurking.

All in all, up to the 47th minute when Brendan Murphy was red carded (there’s no point in analysing after that) Dublin had conceded ten points/scoreable frees. Seven of these were analysed as being “Grade 3 Concessions” (no defender had to be taken on and beaten).

To be fair, the parameters of what are called scoreable frees were extended in this game on the basis of Carlow scoring  a free from sixty metres. Saying that, some of the score concessions were very, very poor from a Dublin point of view.

Apart from Cian O’Sullivan illustrating a long-established penchant for fouling opponents who pose absolutely no threat whatsoever, there was one striking pattern.

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O’Sullivan pushes Foley in the back, as he bends, facing away from goal

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Here, he fouls Murphy

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With Murphy about to run into a wall

The striking pattern was that only a total of four of these ten scores/scoreable frees conceded, recorded as a defender having been the key player breached for the score/scoreable free earned. Four were recorded against forwards and two against Brian Fenton.

Anybody who knows anything about soccer, gets palpitations when they see a striker try to stop an opponent in their own box. It happens rarely, but when it does, you know that, typically, they just don’t have the skill set to cope, and could give away a penalty.

However, in modern football, forwards are frequently positioned behind the ball, where a foul or breach will mean likely mean a score. Dublin are far from alone, but the bulk of their forwards are showing to be complete liabilities in their own half.

If you’ve ever watched Kevin McManamon, Diarmuid Connolly, Bernard Brogan or Paul Flynn try to stop a direct, or even lateral runner inside scoring distance, you won’t be filled with confidence. Typically, they’re all likely to foul.

A new group of forwards were guilty on Saturday.

In Niall Scully’s defense, the free he conceded was very soft and he tackled a direct threat who needed to be tackled. Saying that, the contact was unnecessary and definitely illegal (it looks worse in still image).

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Paul Mannion, on the other hand, made two absolutely unneccesary fouls on players who were running into a brick wall or going nowhere in particular.

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Mannion grabs Murphy

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Who was surrounded and about to run into a spare defender

Here he hots a late shoulder, where Carlow were about to be covered

Here he hits a late shoulder, where Carlow were about to be covered

There were, however, two particularly noteworthy score concessions during the game.

As we see in the initial image here, Carlow pose absolutely no threat with all attackers covered.

dublin carlow joe 5a line break

With the runner imminent, off the shoulder, the obvious thing for Rock to do is to take two steps back to avoid being taken out of the game, and to delay Carlow and allow Kilkenny behind the men.

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He doesn’t, however. He steps forward, and the line is broken.

Dublin carlow joe 5c line break

The key element here, however, is that the key line break is made by Brendan Murphy who takes the ball off the shoulder. If you see how he peels off the unexpecting Con O’Callaghan, you’d know O’Callaghan is a forward and not a back. He doesn’t see the run coming and finds himself on Murphy’s heels as he makes further headway.

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To this point, Murphy has got where he has got on the basis of a lack of defensive know-how of two forwards. However, watch how far the gap between Murphy and O’Callaghan is after twenty metres.

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Con O’Callaghan is one of the fastest footballers in Ireland. Usain Bolt shouldn’t be able to create that size of a gap in such a short period of time. It’s simply a very poor effort to track him.

Perhaps most key, is that fact that at this point, Jonny Cooper was sitting free as sweeper at full back. On the whole Cooper took up good positions as sweeper, but this score illustrated a clear lack of understanding of one key feature of sweeping.

The point of being a sweeper is that you can afford to sit in a free role as long as all of the opposition are accounted for. If one of them breaks the line, you have to cut him off immediately.

Cooper, however, sat for far too long, covering nobody, and Murphy was allowed to run to 35 metres from goal and kick the point (James McCarthy was marking a forward out of picture)

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From start to finish, this score was a defensive catastrophe, with three different textbook defensive errors being made.

The next one is worse. You may excuse the previous score on account of Dublin not going full throttle and O’Callaghan maybe not pushing himself to his max. The next one, however, illustrates a lack of understanding on two simple defensive principles.

As Carlow build their attack, there is absolutely no threat. Even though Carlow have one extra man in the immediate vicinity of the ball, Dublin have extra players in defense.

Dub car gr 7a score con

But as the hand-pass is played, the two Dublin defenders, Fenton and O’Sullivan, follow the new man in possession, while Cooper goes the opposite direction trying to cover a far less direct threat, leaving not one, but three free Carlow players.

dub car gr 7b score

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There’s  a clear lack of understanding of a basic defensive principle that the defender covering the man who plays the ball, follows him, after he plays the ball.

The man on the ball does what any clever player would do, arches back around and plays the easiest of hand-passes to the free men. At this point, Cooper has his back to the play before Danny Moran gets off a free and uncontested, very scoreable shot. It’s all too easy.

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Now, I’m a big fan of Brian Fenton as this article will attest to, but what happens next, is inexcusable. The shot goes air bound and breaks. Look at Fenton’s position relative to Moran who ends up scoring. He’s a half a step ahead of him.

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But as the ball lands, Moran has kept running but Fenton hasn’t. It only required a half pace run from Fenton to stay goal-side, but he has stopped in his tracks. It’s actually O’Sullivan who comes from five yards behind to try to intercept him.

dub car gr 7g score

This has nothing to do with going full throttle or not. It has to do with applying a basic defensive principle of the nearest man picking up and tracking an opponent in a dangerous position.

Moran picks the ball up, uncontested, and kicks over.

dub car gr 7h score

We all know that Dublin attack brilliantly. In Mick Fitzimons, Philly McMahon, Jonny Cooper, Davey Byrne and Cian O’Sullivan, they have five of the best man-marking defenders in the country.

As a unit, however, they can be defensively horrible. They conceded 0-6 “Grade 3’s” in the drawn final against Mayo last year (see article), so it’s not all about “it only being Carlow”.

With a significantly improved and athletically superior Kerry this year, if Dublin don’t improve as a defensive unit, including coaching forwards about how to defend, their awesome attacking is considerably less likely to compensate this year than it did the previous two.

The video and statistical analysis in this article was compiled using the software of our official partner, GaaProstats, a newly developed, cutting edge G.A.A. statistics and video analysis program available to download for a free one month triallogo-gaaprostats-finished

By Stephen O’Meara