Lady’s Senior Final Preview – Foxrock/Cabinteely Vs Ballyboden

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Foxrock/Cabinteely will come into Sunday afternoon’s Dublin Ladies’ Senior Football Championship final as significant favourite against Ballyboden.

The sides have already faced each other in this year’s championship with the Fox-Cab girls running out huge winners with a 3-14 to 1-5 win.

Saying that, a number of players, absent that night had returned to the fold for Boden’s semi-final victory over St. Sylvester’ since that 13 point loss –  Avril Flood, Aoife Clarke , and most significantly, wing back, Deirean Mullany and centre back Sinéad Burke.

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Burke made life tough for Nicole Owens in the semi

With Fox-Cab looking to make it three championships on the trot, however, we have to start from the default position that they are strong favourites.

Five Things That Make Fox-Cab So Formidable

Athleticism – their running ability is awesome, particularly in their middle third. It’s like a team of Claude Makéléles from 5 to 12.

When modern cutting edge statistics came to be, it was noted that he was the most valuable midfielder in world soccer on account of the pace with which he got back behind the ball when his team lost it. Most players had a 45/55 ratio at best in terms of making max-speed sprints when the other side had the ball compared to when their side had the ball. There’s no glory in running backwards. Makéléle’s ratio was over  65/35 when running towards his own goal. It was unprecedented.

Fox-Cab have five Makéléle’s in their midfield and half forward line. If you don’t attack them at lightning pace, expect to face a blanket defence, even if you counter-attack, as Sinéad Goldrick, Niamh Collins, Hannah O’Neill, Fiona Claffey and Laura Nerney will all get behind the ball at lightning pace from up to fifty yards behind the ball.

Off the shoulder – a by-product of their phenomenal athleticism is that they frequently have the legs and the eye to come from behind the ball and take if off the shoulder. Even against the most steadfast of defences, they simply come in waves off the shoulder, like an unrelenting storm. Only the most solid of defences will withstand it.

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Fox-Cab come off the shoulder incessantly

Structure – their structure is as professional as you’ll find. When they have possession at the back, you’ll find corner backs and wing backs hugging the line to create the maximum of space. If the space is available in the centre, the others will weave their way through the spacious central channel. If the opposition crowd them in the centre, they’ll work it to the wings and build from there. It’s theoretically perfect.

And more subtly, they apply something akin to what I call “the forty yard rule”, something frequently over-looked by even some of the top managers in the game, as they can frequently get too many players behind the ball. You’ll rarely find Fox-Cab without an option up-field within forty yards of the player on the ball.

Even with the best intentions, in their group game against Boden, in the heat of battle, at one point, Goldrick had become the fourteenth player to get behind the ball to defend. The calmest of instructions came from Peter Clarke on the line – “where’s the out”?

Goldrick promptly took herself back the other side of the ball whereupon she became that “out” when the ball was turned over, allowing for the quick counter-attack up-field. Alternatively, they’d have had to carry the ball all the way up-field from the back.

In Clarke, they have as tactically competent a manager as you’re likely to find.

Raw Ability –  They have quality everywhere. Up front, in Amy Ring, they have a corner forward who will require serious “man-marking” skills and pace to stop. Then Amy Connelly will drift out and combine spreading ball around with making direct runs and scoring. Fiona Claffey’s and Laura Nerney’s direct running are a handful for any defence.

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Nerney bring pace going both directions

At the back they have corner backs like Ciara Crotty who has the ball ability of your typical centre back, with superb man-markers in all defensive positions and a centre back in Tara Ní Mhurchaoha who can attack at will.

If they choose to use her there, Ciara Murphy is as good a game controlling sweeper/third midfielder as you’ll find.

Then they have two Dublin regulars at midfield, Niamh Collins and Sinéad Goldrick. Goldrick, alone is that fifth element.

Sinéad Goldrick – Any side who are going to beat Fox-Cab are simply going to have to stop her. She gets everywhere. She gets from up-field to behind the ball and comes from down-field to take the ball off the shoulder at pace, and break the line.

In the previous match between the two sides, she scored/was fouled for frees for five points. In their closest game of the campaign, so far, against Brigid’s, she was fouled for two penalties and scored two points.

The option of trying to man-mark her simply has to be considered. Of course, it would probably require a split shift as it’s unlikely that there’s another player in the county who could run with her for sixty minutes.

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Goldrick’s runs are incessant

What Boden Can Bring

If Boden are to have a trump card, it will be adapting their sweeper system to dictate the game on their own terms. They’re simply not going to keep with this immensely athletic side “man-on-man” so their sweeper system will be key.

If they can consistently get players behind the ball and attack at pace in waves from their half back line, as they can, they’ll have some chance.

Elaine McGrath played sweeper in their semi-final and did so excellently, constantly choking off the space in front of Sinéad Aherne.

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McGrath played the sweeper role meticulously

In fact, Boden have quite the capacity to defend en masse, but can be guilty of being over-zealous and giving away too many frees. They simply won’t get away with this against Fox-Cab. If they can get players behind the ball but not give away unnecessary frees, there may well be one key tactical advantage in their favour.

By playing a sweeper, you’re set up as a 7-2-5. Assuming Fox-Cab to follow suit from the group game, they’ll leave one of their full back line to mind the house. That leaves them playing with six on five at the back, while Boden play seven on six at the back.

All things being equal, that set-up is more favourable to the side with the sweeper, as their defence is more compact.

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Boden can defend well in numbers

The problem that Boden faced, chronically, in the second half against Fox-Cab in the group stages, was that they got too many behind the ball. So even when Rachel and Ciara Ruddy from the half back line and Emily Flannagan from midfield drove forward, they had to turn back for lack of options ahead of them. It also happened on a few occasions in the second half of their semi in Malahide.

With Deireann Mullany, their most impressive line-breaker in the semis, as well as Sinéad Burke, back since they last faced Fox-Cab, they have a hugely increased capacity to break from the back. The key will be to keep some shape up front, “the forty yard rule”, as such, so that when they break that line, that the can move forward at pace, and get the ball into the likes of Simmone Reilly before she faces a swarm of defenders.

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Mullany was Boden’s key line-breaker in the semis

Anything less and we all know what happens. Eight Claude Makéléle’s from 5 to 12 will get back behind the ball, and Boden will be back to square one, trying to pick holes in a blanket defence, with Fox-Cab set up to counter-attack.

If Boden can utilise their sweeper/sweeper system to get players behind the ball and prevent Fox-Cab from running at them “man-on-man”, it will serve as a platform to make a contest out of it.

If they can do that, all the while keeping a structured shape with two or three forwards up-field throughout, if they refrain from conceding scoreable frees, and if they can keep some sort of control on Sinéad Goldrick, they’ll be in with a chance.

And of course, if they can win/clear their lines on their own kick-outs, which they failed to do in the group game, as they spent large sections of the game pinned in their own half, kick-out after kick-out.

If they can manage all five of those elements, you’d be looking at a 50/50 game. The problem is that each of those elements is an immense task. Fail in any one, and there’s only going to be one winner.

All things considered, you simply have to fancy Fox-Cab to make it a three in a row.

By Stephen O’Meara