Dublin Vs Donegal : Breaks Cost Dublin again

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Two draws in two games and the Dublin football team face the third in three games of the four in the chasing pack tomorrow against Mayo. Despite the fact that many are counting down the games for Dublin to equal and beat the record for unbeaten games, you can rest  assured that it’s the last thing on Jim Gavin’s mind.

The Hungarian soccer team of the 50’s lost just one game in seven years. It was the World Cup final of 1954, and despite being statistically better than the best of the Brazilians, most people born after the 70’s know little or nothing about them.

Jim Gavin knows that when the hoo-ha around a record that virtually nobody knew of until recently, dies down, the record that people will remember is the three in a row he is chasing. His team selections to date, where numerous marquee players have been omitted to blood/test youngsters, stands testament to this.

So with regards to Gavin’s end game, what have we learned to date? Two things aren’t new. Firstly, obviously, even with line-ups further removed than their respective opponents from what you can expect to see in Croke Park in July, they still haven’t been toppled.

Secondly, for all of their strengths, Score Concession Analysis shows they’re still conceding more than five points per game on average without a single defender having to be taken on and beaten (Grade 3 in Score Concession Analysis).

Dublin concede a scored free unnecessarily

Dublin concede a scored free unnecessarily

Their first goal was a perfect example. Five seasons on, for all of his ability on the ball, Jack McCaffrey’s limitations as a defender were, once again, exposed for Donegal’s first goal.

Dublin’s defence was perfectly well organised, at the time, with extra men behind the ball. In fact, the goal came off a move where Donegal had played a free backwards. That Donegal would end up going “one on one” with Stephen Cluxton without having to take on and beat a single defender, is defensively criminal.

dublin donegal 7 goal

Donegal went backwards with the free that led to the goal

Though the t-v cameras didn’t show it, one can only assume that McCaffrey was facing Frank McGlynn, the man on the ball. The correct defensive position in this case would be to have one shoulder facing the play while facing the man he was marking.

dublin donegal 8 goal

McGee gets in behind McCaffrey

Whatever defensive position he was in, all too easily, Jason McGee got inside the fastest player in the country and went “one on one” with Stephen Cluxton. Despite Cluxton stopping the shot, Dublin never recovered the situation and the ball ended up in the net. Defensively speaking, it was a catastrophe.

However, the second Donegal goal, moments later, alluded to probably the only thing that could beat Dublin, something we earmarked from Dublin’s opening two games. Zonal Kick-out Analysis illustrated that is that they’re being systematically fleeced on breaks from long kick-outs.

In 2014 I wrote, based on statistics taken from Dublin’s opening Leinster championship game against Laois, that based on a pattern of kick-outs, their score concession on the opposition’s kick-outs, could alone be their downfall against superior opposition. Donegal would score 2-3 from this source alone in the second half of their infamous 2014 slaying of the Dubs.

That was before Brian Fenton, of course, and before Dublin systematically kept a “sweeper” holding the centre back position.

The new potential Achilles on kick-outs is breaks.

From a total of nine long Dublin kick-outs, Donegal came away with the ball seven times and Dublin just two. Donegal won five of these seven off breaks. On four of these five, as was the case when Dublin played Tyrone and Cavan, Donegal were queuing up underneath the fielders.

Dublin donegal 2 kickout

Donegal occupy the only likely break winning positions

Dublin Donegal 5 kickout

Donegal are odds on here too

It's virtually impossible that they could win this break

It’s virtually impossible that Dublin could win this break

By contrast, typically, the breaks that Dublin won were 50/50 breaks in the melting pot.

Dublin's breaks were harder earned

Dublin’s breaks were harder earned

In fact, if it wasn’t for Brian Fenton, once again, manoeuvring 50/50 or 40/60 break situations in Dublin’s favour, it could have been worse.

Of course, the key point to note in all of this, is that breaks are typically won and lost because of the endeavours of individuals, and over eighty percent of breaks are won by half forwards and backs. At least three of what you could expect to line up in Dublin’s half forward and back line this July, didn’t start.

For what it’s worth, most break situations that have involved Ciarán Kilkenny, Dean Rock or Brian Fenton have typically seen Dublin in 50/50 positions or better, so we could probably expect improvements with four or five of McCarthy, O’Sullivan, Connolly, McMenamon, Flynn and Macualey in the fold.

Fenton cleverly backtracked into the break winning position

Fenton had cleverly backtracked into the break winning position

However, what is noteworthy is the fact that not just individuals, but all three teams that Dublin have faced have clearly systematically worked on the breaks in a way that Dublin clearly have not.

Last year, on the premise that Mayo wouldn’t allow Dublin to get off quick short kick-outs, I had surmised that statistically it was unlikely that there’d be more than two points between the sides in either All-Ireland final.

If, unlike last year’s league contest, Mayo bring their genuine game plan tomorrow, if they are as dominant on breaks as Donegal were, and once again prevent Dublin from getting quick, short kicks off like last year’s two finals, I’d fancy them.

However, their management team are probably shrewd enough to hold back their real tactical strategy for Dublin, so may well fail to exert the necessary pressure on Dublin’s kick-outs. Bearing that in mind, it’s anybody’s guess how things will go.

But regardless of tomorrow’s outcome, if Dublin don’t improve on the breaks, particularly on their own kick-outs, they could have a surprise in store later this year, if not sooner.

The stats in this article were compiled using the newly developed GaaProstats statistical and video analysis program. This program has been specifically designed for Gaelic football and hurling. It is now available for all clubs to download free for a month’s trial. logo-gaaprostats-finished

By Stephen O’Meara