Vincent’s vs Rathnew – What the Result Implies

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Notwithstanding the fact that I was otherwise engaged with another county champion who were playing the same day, and couldn’t have made it in any case, in truth, I probably wouldn’t have made the journey to Aughrim last Sunday anyway.

Only in hindsight am I bothered to have missed the game that has sent shock-waves through the club All-Ireland.

Right, there’s a vague inclination that it’s an away games in Wicklow, probably the one county you’d ideally not have to travel to in Leinster.

Or maybe the “wilds of the hills” concept is overly implanted in my brain since O’Tooles’ hurlers suffered the same fate in the first round to Kiltegan in Aughrim in 1995 – a first round loss that very few saw coming.

Kiltegan went nowhere, while O’Toole’s went through the Offaly champions to reach the Leinster final the following year.

Wicklow. Away! In truth, it was the only remote inkling of a doubt I’d have had. Portlaoise are the only side who’ve even mustered half a serious challenge in Leinster over the last few years against Vincent’s.

TG 4 thought the same. They sent cameras to Nemo Rangers’ pummeling of Limerick champions, Adare, but none to Wicklow, even for a few highlights for their Monday night show.

The bookies’ thought the same – 1/16 on a Vincents’ win.

I couldn’t have gone to Wicklow either way, but in truth, I wouldn’t have bothered traveling outside of Dublin until a final or a clash with Portloaise, which as it transpired, wouldn’t have happened anyway.

Now, it’s easy to be wise after the event, but when I looked at the Times’ article on Sunday night, a few things jumped out at me. Patterns began to emerge.

Firstly, Ger Brennan off injured after 45 minutes! Fair enough, Vincent’s scored a goal two minutes after he went off. From then on, however, Brennnan’s exit coincided with the game turning upside down for Vincent’s, after which they didn’t score.

If the Australians call the third quarter the “championship quarter”, in terms of Vincents’ form over the last number of years, the fourth could be called the “Brennan Quarter”.

This is when he typically comes to fore if the need arises, making significantly more line-breaking runs high up-field than normal if they’re trailing, level, or only a point ahead, or when he sits to mind the house and control possession if they’re two or more ahead.

The three minutes of possession play after Ballymun came within three points in the county final is the perfect example. Four possessions for Brennan the last of which is an inch perfect pass down a narrow channel to Nathan Mullins which led to a fourteen yard free! He’s the game controller extraordinaire.

I’ve said it once. I’ve said it twice. I’ve said it over and over again. “You don’t miss the water til the well runs dry”. Possibly as much, and possibly even more than Diarmuid Connolly, he is absolutely the key man in the Vincent’s team. He was missing for the “Brennan Quarter”.

Then I looked through the team-sheet. No Nathan Mullins! Christ!

I haven’t gone through an analysis of all of the videos yet, but when I do, my strong suspicion is that Mullins, based on in-depth possession stats, score concession stats and breach stats against of every player from the quarter-finals on, I’m very confident he will be one of the three front runners for the “Grassroots-Gaa Player of the Year” award.

The other two that I imagine are likely to stand out? Paddy Small and Ger Brennan!

I haven’t analyssed the final yet. The semi, however! Up to the first sending off Vincent’s had had 195 possessions in 37 minutes and had made 22 line-breaks and 31 “Mildly Positive” plays.

Brennan had accounted for eleven and Mullins eight! Two players (13 percent of the team) had accounted for 34 percent of the significant plays!

Then you look at the half back line – no Brendan Egan and no Cameron Diamond! Now were in deep water!

If I’d gone to Rathnew and seen that side take the field, away in Wicklow? I’m not saying I’d have predicted the loss, but I’d have thought “hang on here a minute”!

That’s the standard starting two wing backs and the midfielder from the championship! And not just any half backs.

Let’s go back to the Jude’s game again which I’ve analysed in-depth. From 195 possessions up the 37th minute red card, Mullins had Vincents’ highest amount of possessions, at 27, and Brennan next at 25. Who was third? That’s right – Brendan Egan at 23.

So, from 195 possessions, three players (20% of the team) had accounted for 38 percent of the team’s total possessions!

None of these were on the field for the last fifteen minutes. When Brennan went off injured, the entire championship half back line and one of their midfielders weren’t there – four out of five!

From the off, only two of the regular five starting half back line and midfield were there.

As the saying goes, you can only beat the side that’s put in front of you. Rathnew did that and fair play to them.

For those of you from outside the Pale, this isn’t a sour grapes Dub. Beyond an admiration for how they play and run their club, I have no affinity whatsoever to Vincent’s. I’m simply looking at certain elements forensically.

And to be fair, the flip side of this is that they had an unusually injury free run in 2013 and 2014 where they fielded the same starting 15 for two years in a row (or certainly close to it if I’m making a few assumptions from 2013). I won’t say “lucky”.That’s how it rolled, but they certainly weren’t unlucky.

I’m sure the likes of Plunkett’s, for example, could say “if Ross McConnell and Paul Brogan were even close to fully fit in 2014” etc.

As the modern philosophy goes, “it is what it is”. Thirty men took the field and Rathnew won fair and square. But I think it needs to be put into perspective.

There’s no doubting that the absence of a few key players certainly alludes to where Vincent’s might be going in the next few years as the likes of Brennan, Egan, Mossy Quinn and Rúairí Trainor will gradually become less effective. Apparently, Cameron Diamond has emigrated. Will Hugh Gill come back the same player?

For now, however, most of the opinions that have gone around in the aftermath of Vincents’ defeat need to be put into perspective.

By all accounts, Rathnew went man-on-man. If accounts are accurate, fair play to them. Whatever way they worked it, the bottom line is that they won.

So the logic goes that Rathnew’s victory is evidence of the tactics everybody in Dublin should have applied, right? Nonsense.

Look at Na Fianna over the last few years. They tried that in 2013 and 2015 and were pummeled. Then they went zonal last year and were pummeled a bit less. Then they went zonal under new management this year, with structures more akin to the Jude’s and Castleknocks of the world, and actually made a game of it.

I can’t speak for Rathnew’s tactics. I haven’t even seen the highlights. Again, fair play to them. They beat the side put in front of them.

Comparisons about what they did and what Dublin sides did tactically, however? Give me a break. The Vincent’s side who were beaten last Sunday were a far cry from the one that won the Dublin championship.

Apply the same principal to any side in Ireland, even Dublin, and you’d be worried. Imagine Dublin had to start without their marquee wing backs, Jack McCaffrey and John Small, established midfielder, Brian Fenton, and would lose their centre back, Cian O’Sullivan, on the three quarter mark. Would you expect them to saunter through Leinster like they’ve been doing?

In truth, if you told me in advance that Vincent’s would miss those three players, and hypothetically, would miss Brennan for the last quarter, I’d have said they wouldn’t have had a turkey’s chance against Ballymun, and would have been significant underdogs against Jude’s, Croke’s, Castleknock and probably Na Fianna too.

It’s a team and a panel game, and the side with the best team and panel on the day earned their victory. That’s it. Interpretations regarding what it implies, however, should be made with great caution.

By Stephen O’Meara