Dublin's reliance on green flags is diminishing

Dublin manager Jim Gavin in discussion with selector Jason Sherlock.

By Peter McNamara

Quick question: Who was the last Dublin senior footballer to register a green flag from open play in the league or championship?

Any takers? The answer, of course, is Paul Mannion. The occasion? The All-Ireland SFC quarter-final at Croke Park last August.

Dublin have contested three championship matches and a league encounter since that date without any of their players executing a goalscoring opportunity in open play.

Remember, it was Kevin McLoughlin and Colm Boyle that bizarrely forced the umpire into action in the All-Ireland final drawn clash last September while Diarmuid Connolly’s major in the replay was driven to the net from the penalty spot.

Jim Gavin’s men amassed less goals in the league and championship last year (19) than they did in 2014 (23) and 2015 (26).

Yet, Dublin are a more confident outfit now than ever before.

In 2014 the Metropolitans scored 14 goals in nine league games and a further nine majors in five championship collisions, thus recording 23 in 14 overall.

Two seasons back, Gavin’s side pilfered eight league goals in nine and 18 green flags in seven championship outings giving us a total of 26 in 16.

Last year, however, Dublin were less potent in goalscoring terms.

From their nine league contests the Boys in Blue had 11 goals on the board.

That was three more than they accumulated in the league of 2015 but three less than was the case in 2014.

Of greatest significance statistically, though, is the fact Dublin totalled eight green flags in seven championship encounters in 2016.

And were we to subtract the two goals Mayo contributed to their rivals’ tally we are left with an uninspiring six.

When you consider Dublin scored nine in 2014 and 18 in 2015, six goals is a noteworthy dip in contrast.

Once upon a time creating and nailing goalscoring chances was essential to their capacity to be successful.

How often did we witness the net bulging at the Hill 16 end of headquarters which generated an avalanche of scores thereafter in a tussle?

When the goals flowed the Dublin wave cometh. Green flags were their oxygen.

Yet, there is evidence to illustrate Gavin’s unit are no longer reliant on goals for kicks.

It was often highlighted that if you deny Dublin goals you give yourself half a chance of slaying the dragon.

Not anymore. And that spells trouble for the pretenders.

Presently, Dublin’s self-belief is so high that they are unburdened by the shackles of goals being a prerequisite for silverware.

On at least three separate occasions at Breffni Park last Sunday Dublin players opted to fist the ball over the bar rather than test James Farrelly.

James McCarthy in action last Sunday

It’s also another piece of evidence to support the theory they are a much more mature proposition nowadays than, say, even three seasons ago when Donegal ended their All-Ireland title ambitions at the penultimate hurdle.

Not that we really needed any additional documentation to present that argument.

Regardless, they live by the percentages. Always.

Gavin has Dublin implementing the most methodical of gameplans.

He will probably argue against that notion but the jury would surely agree there are mountains of method in their madness.

Has a team ever recycled possession in front of the opposing half-back line as relentlessly as Dublin do, for instance? Or with greater menace?

Central to this approach against Cavan were Jack McCaffrey, James McCarthy and Ciarán Kilkenny.

The more you watch these three perform the more you are reminded of a triumvirate such as Sergio Busquets, Xavi Hernández and Andrés Iniesta detailed on rotation.

Dublin's Dean Rock and Jack McCaffrey challenging Cavan's Gearóid McKiernan.

They probe and recycle, recycle and probe until the cracks appear. It must be tortuous for Dublin’s opponents to deal with, especially given the irrepressible nature of the trio in question.

Where Dublin were once Hollywood and goals were vital, Gavin has presided over their group becoming the most efficient commodity in the business.

It’s like death by a thousand cuts. Only worse. The Metropolitans simply wear teams down.

Currently, it would seem, the players are programmed to only take on a goalscoring opportunity if the possibility of them achieving the objective is at 90% or greater. Rightly so, too.

What we are finding now, however, is that the players are more than content to keep the white flags coming instead, ensuring almost every offensive move they engineer yields at least that dividend thus hammering one more nail into the coffin of their opponent.

Dublin dismissed Mattie McGleenan’s hosts by seven points but were ring-rusty in attack. During the closing quarter there was at least a further three points there for the taking but for uncharacteristic inaccuracy.

Cavan shaped like a side primed to at least get Dublin, temporarily, off the bridle midway through the first-half.

However, you never really believed that they could. And that has everything to do with how close to robotic Dublin are in their plays rather than the shortcomings of McGleenan’s charges.

And we use the word ‘robotic’ in the most complimentary of senses because, quite frankly, they have proven no adversary can live with them when they operate in this mode.

The truly frightening concept is that Dublin always have plenty in reserve.

At times, it looks as if they are playing within themselves. There is at least one more gear if so required to see off an upstart.

Tyrone are next in line to try and destroy their unbeaten record.

Mickey Harte voiced his concern at how easily Roscommon created openings in their defence. The last team you want to be facing with defensive concerns is Dublin.

However, note Dublin’s propensity to simply pad out any advantage they may have rather than primarily going for the jugular, bringing the ‘Take your points, the goals will come’ mantra to a whole new level.

White is the new green for this experienced Dublin juggernaut.

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