THEY started as they meant to go on. In the fourth minute of the game Dublin had their first shot at Kildare’s goal and they were still on the hunt for green flags some 70 minutes later when Eoghan O’Gara confirmed a 16-point defeat for Kildare by scoring Dublin’s fourth goal.
Relentless, ruthless – call it what you like, Dublin borrowed the Kilkenny hurling mindset to make minced meat of a Kildare defence that was marked absent from the very beginning. Whatever Kildare were trying to do at the back, it was impossible to tell because all you could see were unmarked blue shirts pouring forward nearly every time a Kildare attack broke down.
It wasn’t just on the counter that Dublin exposed Kildare’s defence. The very first goal opportunity of the game came from a simple knock-down at midfield, where Dublin midfielder Cian O’Sullivan gobbles up the break from a kickout and unleashes James McCarthy into the Kildare half. McCarthy uses his pace to get clear but it is the presence of an unmarked Ciaran Kilkenny that enables him to play a quick one-two on the Kildare 65 before breezing through the vacant avenue in the middle of Kildare’s defence. Only that McCarthy’s shot hit the post, Dublin would have had their first goal four minutes earlier but he could just have easily played in either of his corner-forwards for an easier shooting chance.
That move alone begs two questions for Kildare: where was the centre-back and why didn’t Kildare opt for a sweeper system? Morgan O’Flaherty had become the sweeper par excellence in recent seasons yet he wasn’t even considered until the 54th minute when the game was already over. Against a Dublin team who love nothing better than to run from deep through their fast-breaking half-backs and midfielders, it seemed a bizarre move to play with a conventional defence. Once Dublin broke the first line of Kildare’s defence, it was easy pickings.
It wasn’t just the system that was to blame though. Kildare’s key players under-performed to a worrying degree. The half-back line of Kildare was arguably their best on paper and certainly the most experienced. Between them, Mick Foley, Eamonn Callaghan and Emmet Bolton have one All-Star and three nominations. On Sunday, defence looked like an alien concept.
A woeful foot-pass from Callaghan caused the turnover that led to Dublin’s goal in the eighth minute while Foley and Bolton are nowhere to be seen when the ball comes back to Diarmuid Connolly inside the Kildare 45. What exactly were the Kildare defenders expecting to do when they didn’t have the ball?
In fairness to Bolton he got back to make a block on Michael Darragh MacAuley in the 14th minute to prevent a second goal but by then, MacAuley had breezed past Daniel Flynn like he wasn’t there. Flynn had come across in front of his full-back to block MacAuley’s path but to call his challenge half-hearted would be kind.
One minute later another terrible foot-pass, and it must be said an act completely out of character, from Callaghan leaves Niall Kelly no chance of winning possession and when Flynn makes a mess of a pick-up and hand pass on the left wing, Cian O’Sullivan tears down the right wing of the Kildare defence for what is eventually a very easy point for Kilkenny. Callaghan, seemingly detailed to Kilkenny for the day, is nowhere near him when he receives the ball.
It might be unfair to isolate Callaghan but twice more before the half is out he is nowhere near his man when Kilkenny picks up possession. The Dublin centre-forward fists a simple point in the 19th minute and helps create the second Dublin goal for Brogan before half-time.
It was clear that Callaghan was struggling badly while Kilkenny was making huge plays for Dublin yet Kildare didn’t make a change there until the 54th minute. Did the management have a change in mind if things didn’t go to plan or did they not notice the problem during the game? Surely moving the versatile Callaghan elsewhere would have been an option although physically he didn’t look right, especially when Kevin McManamon left him for dead in the 52nd minute to set up Dublin’s fourth goal.
By the end of the game, Dublin had created 16 goal chances and 11 times took a shot at the goal. It was easy for them in the second half but the reality is that they created more goal chances (9) in the first half when they game was still competitive.
Maybe the gap between the elite and the nearly men is that big but it’s hard to think Meath will play such an open game against Dublin in a Leinster final. Although it wasn’t simply a systems failure for Kildare on Sunday, the system didn’t seem to change at any stage on Sunday. Had the management come with a back-up plan? Had they not talked about what to do if Dublin got a run at them like they did in the league?
As Roy Keane once said, fail to prepare, prepare to fail.