Kilmacud Croke’s vs Na Fianna – Analysis Report

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Kilmacud Croke’s 0-17 – 0-15 Na Fianna

Coming into this quarter-final with Croke’s as overwhelming favourites, as I’d written in my preview, I wasn’t convinced that some subtle undertones had been missed.

I’ll be the first to pontificate that minor success doesn’t necessarily correlate to senior success. There are multiple examples of clubs and counties who have dominated minor and won nothing at senior with the ensuing generation, and equally, ones who have won nothing at minor, yet dominated at senior.

But when you’re producing three and four inter-county minors a year for successive seasons, many in central positions, you have to assume that it should have some serious impact at senior level.

What had seemed to me to be lost on the bookies’ odds was that the dynamics of two of their group games were completely different to what they were going to face against Croke’s.

Off the back of savage early league score-lines, Na Fianna came into the group stages hotly fancied. But only experience prepares you for the type of aggression they faced against the Craobh side who beat them by five points and the O’Toole’s side they beat by a point.

A significant few players looked like rabbits caught in the headlights after a couple of robust, probably overly robust exchanges in the early stages against O’Toole’s, for example. You’ll have to assume that going forward, it’s an element they’ll have to be more capable of standing up to in the coming years.

Playing Croke’s, however, was always likely to be a horse of a different colour. A Croke’s side, significantly more athletic than what they faced in the group stages, were always going to try to out-hurl them, as opposed to physically imposing themselves on them.

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The dynamics of the group games were never likely to have a huge amount of relevance on this game, and so they didn’t, as the sides were level with Na Fianna standing over a scoreable free in the 58th minute.

In fact, it was Croke’s who looked like rabbits caught in the headlights in the early stages. They simply appeared to have no answer for Na Fianna’s high pressing intensity and were turned over time and time again early on.

Na Fianna would race into a six point to no score lead after just seven minutes.

Apart from the huge intensity brought by Na Fianna, two elements were noteworthy. Firstly, their two corner forwards, Donal Burke and Colin Currie were looking extremely difficult to handle, Currie in particular. You’d have to assume he’ll be on the radar of the new Dublin management team.

Fergal Breathnach’s all-go performance from midfield throughout the first half was equally noteworthy.

Secondly, Croke’s were giving away a shocking amount of frees, some of them completely unnecessary.

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Currie was the outstanding performer of the day

By the tenth minute mark at seven points to one, Na Fianna had scored five points from frees. Three of them were fouls on players that still had quite some work to do before they’d have considered trying to get a shot off.

Both sides played more or less man-on-man, but with a bit of a twist.

Ala Brian Cody’s Kilkenny, on Croke’s puck-outs, Na Fianna’s full forward line would drop closer to the half forward line and their half forward line would drop closer to the midfield. It meant that when the long pucks landed in the Croke’s half forward line that Na Fianna were more likely to be first up to the breaks.

Even where they weren’t, they managed to compress things sufficiently with eleven or twelve players getting into their own half. Croke’s would struggle to cope with this severely in the opening twelve minutes or so.

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Croke’s were swamped under puck-outs

In fact, it was a bit into the second quarter of the game that Croke’s actually began to look like they’d got a grip of the game. It was two superb points from Fergal Whitely, which got them a foothold on the game.

The significant feature of the first one in particular, was that it came off the back of a break won in a tight space off a puck-out, the same kind of tight space that Na Fianna had so successfully bottled Croke’s up on until then. The dynamics hadn’t changed so much as a superb hurler scored a superb point in an extremely tight spot.

His second, on the quarter hour mark, was more of a textbook forwards score where the ball was played in front of him, he gained possession and scored. This point, the first of its type for Croke’s, marked the beginning of them getting on top in the game. They would outscore Na Fianna by five points to three in the second quarter.

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Whitely scores one of three points from play

Indeed, their slight dominance by this point was alluded to by the fact that Na Fianna became the side who began to give away frees, some unnecessarily. They would concede five scoreable frees in this period, though a number would be missed.

For their part, on Na Fianna’s puck-outs, Croke’s typically tried to drop one forward deeper into the midfield, while the five up front tried to split the six Na Fianna defenders.

Tactically, Na Fianna seemed to be more or less sorted. Johnathon Treacy is amongst the best in the county in terms of having the eye to spot the correct puck-out to the free men around the half back line midfield, and he has the accuracy to deliver it. Where gaps were available amidst Croke’s attempts to split them, Treacy hit his man.

Where the option wasn’t on, Na Fianna had an impressively physically large half forward line to launch big ball down on top of, with the big framed Seán Ryan and Eoin McHugh, and the monstrous Seán Murphy. Two of them were significantly larger than their markers.

At 0-11 to 0-7 at half time, it was still anybody’s guess what way things would go as the more experienced side had now got a foothold on the game.

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As was the case with their footballers the previous, Croke’s strength in depth would be key. By the end of the game they would have three subs on in their forward line, with Ronan Hayes and Alex Consedine each giving performances of the highest calibre.

With Ross O’Carroll, Cian McGowan and Caolán Conway all to the fore, Croke’s continued where they had left off before half time, being slightly dominant.

A one-on-one goal chance for Alex Consedine in the fiftieth minute more or less summed up how Croke’s had turned the screw, but Treacy was equal to it.

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Treacy stops Consedine’s one-on-one shot

However, the fact that Na Fianna would only score once in the final quarter, while Croke’s would score six points, probably alluded to the composure of the 2012 and 2014 champions. They never doubted themselves and just kept plugging away, doing the right things.

Saying that, they did face a free from 65 odd yards, at level scores with just three minutes left. Had it been converted, it would have made for an intriguing last few minutes.

Undoubtedly, however, there was more than hurling class on show for Croke’s final two points which got them over the line. There was a composure about each and a grit to the first of these two, as Ross O’Carroll won a ball he really had no business to.

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O’Carroll steals the ball

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And points the winner

While the game undoubtedly verified that Na Fianna will be genuine contenders coming into next year’s championship, the other angle is that from the seventh minute, after Na Fianna’s blitzkrieg like start, Croke’s would outscore them by seventeen points to nine.

Their composure after a ferocious start had the hallmark of the champions they have been, and go in search to be once more.

Kilmacud Croke’s : Eoin Dalton, Niall Corcoran, Bill O’Carroll, Jamie Clinton, Robert Murphy, Ross O’Carroll, Cian McGabhan, Lorcan McMullan, Damien Kelly, Naomhán ÓRíordáin, Fergal Whitely, Caolán Conway, Oisís O’Rourke, Barry O’Rourke, Seán McGrath Subs :Ronan Hayes (26 minutes) Alex Consedine (41), Robert O’Loughlin (51), Stevie O’Dwyer (59) Scorers  O O’Rourke 0-6 (5 frees), Whitely 0-3, Conway 0-2,  Hayes 0-2, O’Carroll 0-1, Kelly 0-1, McGrath 0-1, B O’Rourke 0-1.

Na Fianna : Johnathon Treacy, Seán Burke, Shane Barrett, Cathal Doran, Padraig Buggy, Odhran Meleady, Paul O’Dea, Fergal Breathnach, Gavin King, Seán Murphy, Eoghan McHugh, Seán Ryan, Donal Burke, Thomas Watters, Colin Currie. Subs : Conor McHugh (41) Joey Boland (49), Daire Meleady (58) Scorers  Currie 0-9 (8 frees), Burke 0-2, Ryan 0-2 , King 0-1,  Watters 0-1.

By Stephen O’Meara