Royals must show clinical, if not cynical, edge
By Dara O’Cinneide
When Meath shimmied in from the verges of obscurity and irrelevance with their win over Kildare a few weeks back there was something in their game that felt different.
Quite apart from the fact they had managed to ambush theirbogey team of the last two or three seasons, the most startling fact was that this was a Meath team with pace.
Any time Meath have come up short in recent seasons the second halves of all their games have tended to offer an unforgiving diagnostic in terms of pace and intensity. While Meath’s willingness to allow the ball do the work in the good old-fashioned sense was always admirable, it usually ended up with them looking ragged and disjointed in the last 10 minutes.
That they managed to finish the game stronger than one of the best second-half teams in the game three weeks ago was a revelation. Granted, Darryl Flynn’s sending off reduced Kildare to 14 men for the last 20 minutes but the pace Meath showed in the closing stages was still impressive.
It appears, above all, to have been a vindication of training ground policies and decisions made in light of early summer unrest. It would now seem that everything Seamus McEnaney has done for the past couple of weeks and months, the design of the team and the style of play adopted, has been towards this goal. Tomorrow will tell whether this is a simplistic interpretation of one good result in early July.
Dublin have good cause to be wary of Meath. The warning signs are there in Conor Gillespie’s soaring performance in the semi-final. Donal Keogan and Donncha Tobin look like they could tie up either or both Brogans between them and we know too that Kevin Reilly and Brian Menton have the physicality and the stamina required to deal with Paul Flynn and Kevin McManamon.
Joe Sheridan and Brian Farrell have struggled in the past to make any impression on big games because they’ve had nobody to do the running that would complement their cerebral qualities but now, with a half-forward line of Alan Forde, Damien Carroll and Graham Reilly that oozes potential and kinetic energy, the inside line is starting to look menacing again.
I, for one, would have thought it fanciful just a few short weeks ago that Meath could beat Dublin in a Leinster final but the more one studies the team sheets and the semi-final form, the more one realises it is a distinct possibility.
For Meath to emerge as the only shock provincialchampion of the year they are going to have to play their new-found running game to the limits of its possibilities. This will probably mean having Graham Reilly and Alan Forde playing deep, slightly behind midfield, running at pace at the Dublin defence in the hope they cough up as many frees as they did against Wexford. A more clinical approach to free-taking from Meath, and they are halfway there.
The issue of free-taking could play a big role. Meath kicked three shocking wides from frees in the first 10 minutes against Kildare and still have no recognised free-taker from the right-hand side. It’s not ideal for a team going into a Leinster final with pacy forwards who can draw fouls.
While on that matter, it seems alien to Meath forwards to engage in negative play of any description. It may seem strange to say it in Meath’s case, but they are going to have to brush up in the unfortunate necessities of tactical fouling or at least tracking back with the purpose of slowing down the opposition.
A brief cameo towards the end of the first half against Kildare illustrates the point: Graham Reilly got booked for blatantly checking a run after earlier having his own run checked and the foul going unpunished. Within a minute, he fouled James Kavanagh for a pointed free and within five minutes Reilly again conceded a free that drew Kildare level a minute before half time. Such indiscipline will be costly the longer the year goes on but it is testament to Reilly’s character that he managed to have such an influential role in the second half of the semi-final while walking such a thin line.
Even though Dublin are two full years further down the road in terms of their development, they will acknowledge the thin line that separates them from their old foe tomorrow. For all their pace, passion and wild card possibilities, Meath appear to have one or two more weaknesses than Dublin.
If Michael Dara McAuley brings his brand of barely controlled aggression from the forwards to midfield, Dublin have the capacity to overwhelm Brian Meade and Conor Gillespie. Dublin will also relish the prospect of exposing Mickey Burke’s inability to turn on the inside line. And for all their talents and experience, Stephen Bray, Joe Sheridan and Kevin Reilly must have doubts about their ability to stay the course after an interrupted summer to date. I fancy Dublin to win but that verdict is not laden with any great certainty or conviction.
After benefiting from a dubious penalty award in last year’s Ulster final, Donegal know the geography on either side of the fine line between winning and losing as well. That Michael Murphy penalty against Derry unleashed their inner belief and now they stand on the cusp of becoming the first Donegal side in history to retain the Ulster title.
Holding Tyrone scoreless for 32 minutes of the second half of their semi-final win was quite an achievement but they shouldn’t have had to rely on a great save from goalkeeper Paul Durcan to ensure victory.
Down have already beaten Donegal in the league in February and have gone on to suss out Dublin’s, Mayo’s and Laois’s defensive systems during the spring. But this is high summer and Donegal are playing a game most of us are still trying to decipher.
The most impressive and informative moment in Donegal’s win over Tyrone was Colm McFadden’s point to put them four-up seven minutes from the end. A long diagonal ball from Joe McMahon to Stephen O’Neill near the end line, three Donegal defenders converge and dispossess the Tyrone captain, seven fist passes and three foot passes later and Donegal have the final score of the evening to close out the game.
Down’s innate audacity and the fact their entire panel have never experienced the thrill of an Ulster title win, may sharpen their hunger and sense of entitlement but it is surely no match for what Donegal are bringing to the feast right now.Home