Vincent’s vs Slaughtneil Preview : Head to Head

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Here’s a look at how we can expect the head to head battles to shape up when Vincent’s face Slaughtneil in this weekend’s All-Ireland Senior Club semi-final.


You can expect Dublin panelist Shane Carthy to go head to head with the athletic Padraig Cassidy, while fielding machine, Dáithí Murphy will go up against the 33 year old, 2008 national league winner, Patsy Bradley, both from play and kick-outs.

Cassidy is Slaughtneil’s unsung hero. GaaProststs Possession Performance Analysis shows he averaged 29 possessions in the Ulster semi-final and final and averaging 5.5 line breaks per game. Carthy, of course, will be athletically a match, so this battle will be as  intriguing as it will be key.

Cassidy is fouled for a scored free as he breaks the line

Cassidy is fouled for a scored free as he breaks the line

Bradley and Murphy have been the targets of each side’s kick-outs up until now, and both have won more than their fair share, so something has to give. The likelihood is that neither will dominate the other, so the breaks will be key, a factor which our general preview has suggested Vincent’s should come out on top of.

While Bradley is a key orchestrator in Slaughtneil’s set-up, spraying passes and carrying ball, Murphy’s primary role is to catch kick-outs. If short kick-outs are large features of games, Murphy will be systematically taken off and replaced. Until/unless this substitution happens, Slaughtneil will have more legs in the middle, something which could cost Vincent’s if they lose Slaughtneil’s kick-outs.

Depending on who might replace Murphy, up against a 33 year old Bradley, that athletic advantage could be reversed. It’s not unusual for Vincent’s to rack up the scores within minutes of this substitution if it happens, as they up a gear in the middle third. It happened against both Castleknock and Rhode in the Dublin and Leinster finals.

Vincents forwards versus  Slaughtneil’s defence

Obviously the centre forward/centre back and full forward/full back duels are always key, but all the more so in this game. Brendan Rogers and Chrissy McKaigue at full back and centre back are Derry seniors and they’ll face Dublin star Diarmuid Connolly and former Mayo star Enda Varley.

Varley has dominated all but Ballymun’s Eoin Dolan in this campaign, but Rogers is at least as good a man marker as Dolan, so don’t expect Varley’s usual three/four points or more. He’ll earn anything he gets. The one element of note, mind you, is that Rogers is somewhat taller than Varley, which could make Varley’s twinkle toes tough for the big man to deal with if he’s exposed man on man.

Brendan rogers

Brendan Rogers breaks forward in between man marking duty

Obviously marking Connolly is a tall order, though GaaProstats Possession Performance Anlaysis illustrated he only averaged eleven possessions from play in the Dublin semi, final and Leinster final. It’s the magic he conjured up on almost every second one of these that was key. Shy of Mayo’s Lee Keegan, however, McKaigue is as good a marker as he’ll have faced in 2016/17.

If McKaigue can keep him to this average of eleven possessions, with Slaughtneil’s compact defence, it’s likely that Connolly will have to conjure up the kind of magic he did against Ballymun to make an impact. Of course, he can, but don’t bank on it. If McKaigue wins, or even breaks even in this battle, chances are, Slaughtneil will win.

Noteworthy, however, is that despite the fact that it wasn’t McKaigue who was directly beaten, GaaProstats Possession Performance Analysis illustrated that Killyclogher’s centre forward Conall McCann breached Slaughtneil’s lines a massive eleven time’s in the Ulster semi-final. And while GaaProstats Breach/Interception Analysis showed that Castleknock’s centre back Tom Quinn wasn’t breached once directly by Connolly, it was still four Connolly passes which broke them in the end.

All non-Dublin eyes tend to be on Connolly, but Gavin Burke’s penetrating runs at wing forward can be equally significant. It’s likely that Slaughtneil’s Karl Feeney, and not Paul McNeill, will pick him up. Feeney could be Burke’s worst nightmare.


Burke gets a shot off against Ballymun

Similar in height, he’s a devilish man marker and equally as pacey as Burke. Assuming it’s Feeney picks him up, don’t expect Burke to run riot like he did in the Dublin and Leinster finals,or famously in the 2013 Dublin final.

The ace in Vincents’ pack could be that after that, the 12, 13 and 15 of Cormac Diamond, Ruairí Trainor and Mossy Quinn may or may not be matched by the 5,4 and 2 of Paul McNeill, Karl McKaigue and Francis McEldowney.

Whichever of Vincent’s veterans McKaigue picks up, he’ll do as well as anybody, which may or may not enough if it’s Mossy. And McNeill and Diamond should be evenly matched.

But whether it be Quinn or Trainor, even approaching their mid thirties, McEldowney, for all of his attribute, simply doesn’t have the turn of pace to cope with either, if exposed man on man, especially Quinn.

Mossy Quinn points against Rhode

Mossy Quinn points against Rhode

If he finds himself playing as a textbook corner back, the compact nature of Slaughneil’s defence might protect him as it did against Kilcoo. If Trainor drags him out to the half forward line, however, he could be seriously exposed for pace as happened a number of times as the game wore on against Killyclogher, which could be key.

Slaughtneil’s forward line vs Vincent’s Defence

The million dollar question is, if Brenadan Egan and Hugh Gill are available for Vincent’s, who starts? It’s hard to imagine who’d be left out, yet it’s hard to imagine either of these not starting if they’re available. I don’t think either has been less than first choice since at least 2014.

Working off the basis that Vincent’s will start with the same side as faced Rhode in the Leinster final, Slaughtneil’s Shane Mcguigan at full forward is their most likely talisman in that line. He hasn’t scored huge amounts but caused carnage, including breaking the line to set up the key goal in the Ulster semi-final. He’s big and pacey, and if he gets ball in before Vincent’s have a chance to get men back, he’ll be a handful for Jarlath Curley at full back.

McGuigan breaks the line to setup Slaughtneil's goal in the Ulster semi

McGuigan breaks the line to setup Slaughtneil’s goal in the Ulster semi

I’d fancy either Mick Concarr or Craig Wilson (or Hugh Gill of he plays) toprevent Cormac O’Doherty from dominating, while number 13, Conor Bradley is more likely to roam.

This will create an interesting dynamic as it will leave Vincent’s with a spare man at the back/draw one of them more up field. Vincent’s are masters of utilising this spare man, and with Mick Concarr probably more at home as an attacking half back, this dynamic will be interesting. Bradley’s roaming is key to Slaughtneil’s play, so whichever player in this “corner forward/back” duel makes the most of their somewhat free role, will have a huge bearing on matters.

Meehaul McGrath and Shane McGuigan should line up on the wings for Slaughtneil. Of the two, Shane McGuigan, will pose the most serious danger. GaaProstats Possession Performance Analysis illustrates that he averaged 4.5 line breaks per game in the semi and final and three points per game (including points scored and scoreable frees fouled for).

Diamond would be the most likely candidate, as he’d have the pace to match. How well Diamond or anybody else will do on him will be key. I don’t see anybody keeping him fully under wraps, but assuming it’s Diamond picks him up, I’d expect he’ll have marginally less of an influence than he did in Ulster.

The marquee battle in the half forward line is Ger Brennan on Paul Bradley at centre forward. Bradley’s “pick and poke” style is central to Slaughtneil’s methodical play. He has averaged 27 possessions in the Ulster semi and final with an average of seven line breaks per game and just 1.5 turnovers. He’s the man who makes the Slaughtneil forward line tick.


There’s no easy way past Ger Brennan

Intriguing as this head to head would be, the likelihood is he’ll drift towards the midfield to pick up ball and Brennan will hold his position inside the “65”. Brennan plays the angles well, so it will be no easy task for Bradley to exert his usual influence on this game, but his style and ability almost guarantee that he’ll have a significant impact.

This duel will be key. Perhaps the most key question will be if Bradley will track Brennan’s deep, penetrative runs from the back when the need arises.

I suspect he might not have the legs to do what he does on the ball and do this tracking too. If not, expect Brennan to have a significant impact driving from the back if need arises, which it almost certainly will. If this happens, it could be a key factor.

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