St Vincent’s vs St Jude’s – Preview
Notwithstanding the fact that the two statistically stand-out teams in Dublin over the last five years have been kept apart, from a tactically intriguing point of view, the semi-final draw is the one I had certainly hoped for.
Vincent’s and Ballymun have played four ties in the last five years. Jude’s played Croke’s last year. This Croke’s side has never played this Ballymun side in championship and the same goes for Jude’s and Vincent’s.
That, however, is the secondary reason for the intrigue of this particular tie between Vincent’s and Jude’s. The primary reason is that it pits the best “pick and poke” attack in Dublin, possibly in Ireland, against one of the two stand-out functional and efficient zonal defences in Dublin.
It’s the proverbial immovable object meeting an unstoppable force.
Of course, the other stand-out functional and efficient zonal defence in Dublin is Castleknock’s, so the same broader principles would have applied in last year’s final. The seemingly immovable object that was Castleknock’s defence, was moved. Vincent’s, as per usual, proved to be the unstoppable force.
Can Jude’s prove more formidable than Castleknock did? We have to start from the default position that Vincent’s are the proven outfit and come in as favourites.
Attack versus Defence
Let’s face it – Jude’s simply aren’t going to beat Vincent’s in a free flowing footballing shoot-out. If they can beat them, it will be all about frustrating the life out of them up-front and a combination of catching them on the counter-attack and scoring a bit more than a low score they’ll have to keep Vincent’s to. This combined with springing some sort of hugely successful set-play or tactical plan like they did against Croke’s last year.
In fact, the latter is highly unlikely. Vincents’ ability to re-mould and re-shape based on what they see in front of them in terms of kick-outs/set plays, in general, is second to none.
Na Fianna had clearly put huge work into a kick-out set play in the second round that worked off the same foundation as Judes’ against Croke’s last year.
Theoretically, it was a solid plan. Against another side there’s every chance it would have worked a treat, more than the once it did. Their middle third pulled towards their half back line and they sent the kick-out over the top and scored a perfectly easy point into a man-on-man defence, similar to how Jude’s scored a whopping eight against Croke’s last year.
Vincent’s, however, worked things out quickly, re-shaped, dropped one out of the full forward line back into space and split two on three in Na Fianna’s full back line, patched it up, and all of a sudden Na Fianna’s plan fell flat on its face.
And soon, instead of Na Fiannaa creating attacks off the set-play kick-out, they started conceding points straight off it.
To put that into perspective, the same Galway football plan opened up Kerry for three goal/half goal chances in this year’s All-Ireland quarter-final.
So let’s work on the basis that any kick-out or other set-play that Jude’s will manufacture, is likely to have a limited shelf-life, against this most collectively intelligent of oppositions. Alas, it’s option A or B – frustrate the life out of Vincent’s attacks with mechanical-like defensive efficiency and catch them on the counter-attack, and score a bit more than the low score they’ll hope to keep Vincent’s to.
If any side in Dublin can frustrate them in such manner, it’s Jude’s.
The reality is that Jude’s have sauntered into the semis this year. Four of the statistically top seven in Dublin ended up in the same quadrant of the draw – Croke’s, Castleknock, Plunkett’s and Ballyboden. The other three, excluding Croke’s, got there without over-coming a top seven challenge.
To that end, we can still, really, only judge Jude’s based on last year’s championship performances in order to gauge where they’re at. All we can really glean from their opening three rounds this year is that their defence has been rock solid again. They’ve conceded less than 7.5 points per game, the best defensive record in the championship.
They conceded just 1-8 to Croke’s last year, and even when they lost to Castlenock in the semis, the problem was scoring, not defending. They lost 0-11 to 1-4! They’ll still feel, somewhat justifiably, that two or three of their conceded frees that night were very soft refereeing calls! Albeit, their defence hasn’t faced Ballymun or Vincent’s, they’ve shown a capacity/potential to keep top sides to less than ten scores.
The issue they face, of course, is that Vincents’ figures relating to breaking down zonal defences are simply phenomenal. The most pure calculation of this element of the game is in terms of looking at scores gained off a typical statistical loser, short kick-outs to the full back line not played within 9.5 seconds of the ball going dead. The vast majority of club sides concede more on the first turnover than on the initial possession on these.
In last year’s semi-final, against a Ballymun defence with three Dublin starters, they managed four points from six such kick-outs! Against a side of that calibre, such readings are simply off the charts. That half of these were against a fourteen man Ballymun is irrelevant. On all six occasions, Mun were set up with twelve or thirteen men behind the ball in their own half. Still, Vincent’s scored four from six!
And equally, when push came to shove against Slughtneil in the All-Ireland semis, who probably pip Jude’s in terms of zonal defence capacity, Vincent’s opened them up late on to bring a 0-11 to 0-8 deficit back to within a missed free of leveling, in the final ten minutes. And we all saw what they did in the last round against a Sylvester’s side who parked the bus, scoring twenty points!
Judes’ defence is solid, but as yet, there hasn’t been a defence solid enough to keep Vincent’s to less than ten points. We have to assume that they’ll score at least that. Even with Diarmuid Connolly tied up by Chrissy McCague in the All-Ireland semi, they managed ten points. So even in a best case scenario for Jude’s, we have to ask the following question – could we actually expect them to score more than ten points against Vincent’s? Evidence suggests it’s a big ask.
While Jude’s have put up big scores against sides out-side of the top rung, as yet, there’s no evidence that they can do so against the top sides, except in particular circumstances.
They managed just 1-4 against Castleknock in last year’s semi. Granted, it is worth pointing out that apart from missing centre back Chris Guckian for that game through injury, Ross O’Brien, their second most likely forward to pick the lock of zonal defences, was suspended.
Yet, despite scoring a reasonable fourteen points against Croke’s in the quarters, there was a notable pattern. Eight of their fourteen points were scored off the back of the aforementioned kick-out set-play, and three more were scored off the back of Croke’s fouling a man where no direct threat existed. They actually only scored three points from non-kick-out related play that weren’t gifted to them by unnecessary, soft frees.
Of course, sides conceded soft frees, and sides gain scores off their own kick-outs, but as already pointed out, Vincent’s aren’t likely to concede anything like this Jude’s vs Croke’s figure off kick-outs, and typically, aren’t in the habit of giving away soft frees either. It’s not to say they can’t, but as yet, there’s no evidence that Jude’s can break down a top defence to the tune of double digit scores, if the given defence don’t cough up somewhere soft.
All in all, the evidence in front of us suggests that Vincent’s are highly likely to score at least ten points. There are question marks over Judes’ capacity to score more than ten against a top defence who don’t concede soft frees– unless they conjure up something brilliantly pre-meditated on kick-outs or elsewhere.
We have to expect that Vincent’s will go man-on-man on Judes’ kick-out. They always do against all opposition. That they still play a traditional 3-3-2-3-3 means they’re generally set up with players on the full forward line to execute this. This will be the case, all the more so, if Jude’s get men behind the ball and Vincent’s have to “pick and poke” their way through the Jude’s defence, as they’ll already have numbers up-field, ready to push man-on-man on the kick-out.
That Vincent’s tried to apply this man-on-man policy against Slaughtneil in February, albeit under different management, probably suggests that they’ll do it again. Tactically, they set up very well man-on-man, in the sense that they get men on individual opposition shoulders quickly and systematically. Despite this, however, Saughtneil still got off nine out of thirteen of their kick-outs short.
You’d have to assume that Jude’s will run themselves into the ground against a more athletic side, if they try to get off quick kick-outs off all afternoon. To that end, applying some sort of set-play, as they are masters of, to try to gain primary possession on the long kick, or to the half back line, will be key.
An interesting point is that these nine kicks against Slaughtneil, in their own right, didn’t cost Vincent’s. They didn’t concede, nor did they score on their first possession for each side, after any of these nine kick-outs. It was that it deprived Vincent’s the opportunity to force Slaughtneil long where they had won three out of three and scored a point on each occasion, early on.
Once again, the question remains, can Jude’s score a high percentage if they go short on kick-outs? There’s no evidence as yet that they can. Slaughtneil didn’t do it against Vincent’s, and Jude’s didn’t do it against Castleknock last year when they let them have the kick-outs.
As for Vincents’ kick-outs, Judes’ plan will be secondary in this regard. They’re unlikely to commit enough men to attack to be in a position to consistently choke off Vincents’ quick kick-out to begin with. The key question is whether they’ll be able to prevent the holders from breaching “the Killer Quarter”.
Vincent’s have outrageous figures in this regard, coming in at over a fifty percent kick-out to score ratio on quick kick-outs that breach “the killer quarter”. They scored three from four in last year’s final, for example.
If Jude’s can prevent them from breaching “the killer quarter” then there’s every chance they could could prove to be one of the minority of sides who can limit Vincent’s, once they have men behind the ball.
The issue which arises then, of course, is what so many of Dublin’s opponents have faced. Will they have the stamina to keep counter-attacking and then traipsing back behind the ball en-mass to deprive Vincent’s the opportunity to hit them quickly off the kick-out? You have to imagine not.
We shouldn’t forget that they were completely out on their feet with ten minutes remaining last year against Castleknock, who applied the same quick kick-out policy. And their key running half forward, Tom Lahiff, is out injured.
So, you have to assume they’ll need to do one of two things – send more men into attack, to look to choke off the kick-out, but this will compromise their defensive structure beyond reason. Or they’ll have to earn a number of scores from frees, so they can choke the kick-out off man-on-man, but Vincent’s don’t concede many frees.
Failing either of these, you have to assume they’ll need to win more than their fair share of their own long kick-outs. This would allow them play the game at a slower pace, while still getting men behind the ball, without running out of steam.
All in all, you have to assume they’ll have to keep Vincent’s to less than any other side has done, ten points, and find holes in their defence, which typically don’t exist, and manufacture ten points or more, something they fell far short of against Castleknock last year.
Of course, they missed O’Brien, their key play-maker on that occasion, as well as Guckian. Though they’ll be without their half forward engine, Tom Lahiff, whose injury is a major loss, and Billy Sheehan’s age has seen him relegated him to the bench this year.
When push comes to shove, Vincent’s have proven that collectively, they have a lot more up front. All six forwards can score no matter what is put in front of them. In Mossy Quinn, Enda Varely, Diarmuid Connolly and Shane Carthy, not to mention Gavin Burke who didn’t start the quarters, they have five potential scoring machines. Mick Concarr and Craig Wilson at corner back can man-mark the best of them, potentially even Kevin McManamon.
If Jude’s can dominate their own long kick-outs with their towering midfield duo of Séamus Ryan and Colm Murphy, and their defence passes its sternest test, they certainly have a good chance. Assuming, that is, Kevin McManamon can be worth his average five/six point a game (scored, fouled for frees, making the key line break for frees).
It’s a big ask though. With all the little details swinging their way, it’s certainly more than feasible. All in all, though, you have to favour Vincent’s. After three successful Leinster campaigns, they’re more than proven, and experienced, against sides who’ve tried, and failed, to suffocate them.
By Stephen O’Meara