Croke Park fixtures

Croke Park fixtures, All Ireland 2013, GAA Fixtures, Leinster Final 2013, Dublin, Meath

This outstripped my worst forebodings for Kildare by so much that you have to ask the question: are Dublin a super-team or have Kildare fallen seriously off the pace at this level of the game?

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It’s probably a bit of both in that Kieran McGeeney’s trying to rebuild in Kildare while Dublin have a renewed focus this year under new management.

The big picture is impressive. They’ve a high work rate, and at a pace most teams aren’t familiar with and they’re also playing for each other, as they come out of defence and go forward. It’s a formidable combination.

Kildare though showed naivete in the way they set up, trying to play Dublin man to man and they’d no answer to the counter-attacking runs from Jack McCaffrey and James McCarthy down both flanks. Opposing half forwards have to mark the Dublin half backs because the pressure on the Kildare half backs was enormous and they’d no answer to the pace and the direct running coming from down the pitch.

Dublin also had a very mobile half forward line in which Ciarán Kilkenny was outstanding, always available for the outlet pass and covering a lot of ground.

It looked impossible to defend against but if Kildare are to take any positive out of it, I though their full-back line worked hard. Peter Kelly did well on Bernard Brogan and overall it was a manful effort but it was like keeping out the tide.

I also feel Kildare place too much emphasis on what to do with the ball as opposed to what to do when the other team has it. Their half backs weren’t close enough to their men – even before they got overwhelmed by the players hurtling past them from deeper positions.

The concession of scores turned into a haemorrhage and that was even though their ’keeper Shane Connolly made some fine saves. Dublin could have been more clinical, which is a frightening prospect when you consider they’ve just beaten Division One league semi-finalists by 16 points.

Pace is only part of the problem. Dublin’s skill level is good and they’re moving the ball well. I thought Michael Darragh Macauley, who at times has a tendency to take too much out of the ball, improved yesterday and moved quicker ball.

That’s in keeping with Jim Gavin’s whole philosophy of high tempo, attacking football. Look at them play and see how few lateral passes they execute and the workrate of players coming off the shoulder onto quick offloads.

There’s constant movement and good diagonal balls. It makes huge demands on energy because it’s relentless and Gavin can introduce players, who can maintain that tempo and quality off the bench.I was also impressed with all of the players’ contribution. The team used to have a major overreliance on Bernard Brogan and to an extent Diarmuid Connolly but they’re now part of a far more collective effort.

The emphasis is now on the player making the run and quick, snappy passing and I hadn’t seen such intensity in the tackle before from Dublin’s forwards – not pulling and dragging but nicking the ball away which was great to see. But Kildare’s resistance was poor. Maybe tactically McGeeney could have deployed a familiar tactic from his playing days when Armagh protected the centre by playing a supplementary defender. Instead, Kildare were overrun.

The level of expectation will be through the roof and the challenge is going to be to keep players’ feet on the ground but Gavin knows so many of them from the successful under-21 campaigns that he’ll be confident of managing the sort of hype that has in the past negatively affected Dublin teams.

Comparing the two Leinster semi-finals there was an obvious difference in tempo and that will most likely be Meath’s downfall.

They went about their business clinically after a poor first half and showed patience before taking over the match. They have quality footballers in the likes of Stephen Bray, Graham Reilly and Donal Keoghan but they’re not sharp or quick enough in the middle to stay with the pace Dublin showed today.

Wexford were instrumental in their own downfall and didn’t look fit enough for the full 70 minutes. When you run out of steam, you run out of discipline, and in doing that they gave up the frees that ultimately killed them.

A quick word on Saturday’s Ulster semi-final. I think Cavan will be disappointed that they got so close to reaching the final. But it will be a good learning experience for them. In the end the old heads of Monaghan proved a bit smarter but Cavan could go well with the right draw in the qualifiers.

Their attacking game is at times a little gung-ho and a better team than Monaghan might exploit that space.

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