Kildare and Playing The Blues

It’s always going to be difficult playing Dublin GAA. They’ve made the Leinster Final their own, going for seven in a row.

It isn’t an accident you know? In 2009 Kildare lost by three points to the Dubs in their last final appearance. You have to go to 2000 to find the last time Kildare GAA lifted the Leinster championship, beating Dublin after a replay.

There have been very good Kildare teams since then, and the 2010 championship will always be the one that got away. That disputed ‘squareball’ against Down cost them their place in an All Ireland final against a Cork team they would have backed themselves to beat.

Sports Science for the Lily Whites

Kildare manager Cian O’Neill has built a hugely respected reputation working with Tipperary hurlers, Mayo and the Kerry football team. The manager’s gig with Kildare was always the role he was waiting for and as a professional sports scientist he will bring every method and every nuance to the preparations. He sounded a note of frustration this week as information on some of his novel techniques, most notably training with occlusion glasses to improve players’ awareness and anticipation, were featured on the excellent programme GAA Nua.

O’Neill’s point is that these programmes are better aired in the offseason when they are less likely to put the scud on a team or open them up to ridicule or micky taking in the event of defeat.

The Dublin team is itself no stranger to meticulous planning and preparation using whatever sports science expertise Jim Gavin will feel helps his reputedly forensic approach to preparation.

Dublin Skills Set

The bottom line with Dublin is that they possess an incredibly high quality group of players who execute the basic skills repeatedly to a high level. Repeatability, fitness and on pitch nous. You can say what you want but they have cultivated a highly skilled group of players whose decision making under pressure is of the highest order. This is a term that recurs if you listen carefully to what Jim Gavin is saying.

And they can replace players who are dipping away from the performance norms expected with the strength of their bench. That is one of the challenges teams face against Dublin, so called marking the bench, and having your own subs ready to come in to counteract a fresh legged and free running thoroughbred sub. When the bench averages around five points a game and the team as a whole usually has eight or more scorers, it underlines the scale of the challenge.

With Dublin we have seen the closest to the use of tactical substitutes in gaelic games, players coming off the bench capable of closing out games in a clinical wave of blue. It requires a large panel of adaptable high quality players and that is what Boys in Blue possess in numbers.

How To Beat Dublin?

How then does a team aspire to defeat Dublin, with all their strengths and attributes? Well some teams have gone down the route of abrasive in your face physicality. It doesn’t really work because this is a Dublin team that can adapt and survive in any circumstance plus they have their own band of warriors who can play it whatever way their opponents choose to mix it. If that means going down the physical route then they can handle it.

Press the kickouts? Put Stephen Cluxton under pressure. The man has redefined the restart in Gaelic football with his laser precision kicks and he has the skills set to change his mind and his kick at the last possible moment. Teams have shown that it can be possible to disrupt the Dublin restart. But… you need to have the personnel in place on the pitch to do this. Kerry tried it last year with some success pushing on the kick outs after they had won and kicked a close in free so the players were in place for the correct set up. Cluxton is ready to go quickly so the set up has to be in place. It had partial success before they were blitzed with a run of late scores.

Control the D, swamp the defence and break at pace. Sounds familiar? Tyrone have tried it with some success in league games but haven’t had an opportunity yet in Croke Park on a Championship day to apply their system. Will that change this summer? Mickey Harte would relish nothing more than a crack at the Dubs. They nearly pulled off an unlikely but well thought out win in the league, but for some wayward shooting and a red card.

Target the middle third. In the past Donegal had some success in drawing the battle lines in the middle of the field, kicking the ball in their and providing a tip down for a runner. It has been a successful tactic if a team commits players to the middle third.

We can talk about these ideas until the cows come home, but talking and doing are two different things. There’s no doubt both Cian O’Neill and Jim Gavin will have left nothing to chance for Sunday.