In the run-up to the All-Ireland final, three key areas were highlighted on these pages as potential game-changers – the volume of Dublin goal chances, how the Big Three for each were performing and kick-outs.
We will look forward to tonight's replay by reviewing how both teams performed in the drawn game in these key areas.
In the three games from the Super 8s onwards (excluding the Battle of the Bs up in Omagh) Dublin had produced 20 goal attempts which equated to one every 8.2 possessions. Kerry were allowing a shot at goal just once every 23 possessions. The average is a shot at goal every 18.5 possessions.
Strength-on-strength and something had to give. From a purely volume perspective, Kerry came out on top. Throughout their 42 possessions, McCaffrey’s goal was the only time Dublin pulled the trigger. Even if we include the O’Callaghan attempt, which was brought back for a free, that is a shot at goal once every 21 possessions.
It was also highlighted in the preview piece that Dublin had picked up 0–6 on Rock frees from fouls on O’Callaghan.
The task was thus outlined as restricting the Dublin goal attempts whilst not fouling O’Callaghan. Kerry did incredibly well but they didn’t exactly follow this template. Instead, they picked their poison fouling O’Callaghan four times (expertly rotated by Barry, Foley, Murphy and O’Sullivan, committing one apiece) rather than letting him give Dublin the oxygen of goals.
Is it repeatable? Post the Munster final, this Kerry defence has proven to be frugal when it comes to goal attempts. They have now conceded just nine (2, 1, 3, 2 & 1 in the drawn game) shots at goal in their last five games. Even before this, against Dublin down in Tralee for the Round 3 league encounter, they again only gave up two goal attempts (one to that man O’Callaghan).
Dublin may be the masters at creating goal chances. But Kerry have now consistently shown that they can gum up this avenue – by methods fair or foul.
Prior to September 1st, Dublin’s big three - O’Callaghan, Mannion and Kilkenny - had accounted for 45% of all their shots from play, combining for an exceptional conversion rate of 70% (3–20 from the 33 shots).
Much like the goal attempts, Kerry were excellent here locking these three down to just five shots, 25% of Dublin’s total shots from play, and 0–3. Against any other team that would suffice but Dublin’s attack is like an extreme version of whack-a-mole.
Tie three down (four when you consider that Niall Scully didn’t have a shot whilst on the pitch and only produced one assist) and two more – Rock and McCaffrey - pop up for nine shots and 1–6 between them.
That’s not to say it was a complete systems failure. Kilkenny and Mannion provided the primary assist for seven point attempts whilst we have already alluded to O’Callaghan winning the four frees. The big three were heavily involved but just not on the scoreboard.
Clifford, Geaney and O’Brien were much more to the fore combining for 48% of all of Kerry’s shots from play (11 of 23).
The volume was in line with expectation – they had combined for 51% prior to the final – but their collective radar was off. Combined they scored just 0–3 from those 11 attempts. The average inter-county forward would have expected to come away with somewhere in the region of 1–5 from those chances.
And these three are far from average.
Neither big three fired. Kerry stymied Dublin’s attacking flow, but the depth of talent meant that they could not be entirely curtailed. Kerry’s main men were as involved as ever but lacking accuracy. You have to imagine both sets will score more than 0–3 this evening but just how much more will go a long way to deciding things.
The raw possession numbers show a relatively even battle. Dublin gained two more possessions (25 v 23) from kickouts, with all those that travelled past the 45m line being split evenly (12 apiece; Dublin won 8 of their 13 that went past the 45; Kerry were 7 of 11 on theirs). How often both teams went short was also very even; 52% (12 of 23 kickouts) for Kerry and 48% (12 of 25) for Dublin.
In the run up to the drawn game, Kerry had lost seven short kickouts. Dublin had scored on each of the opposition’s short ones they had won. The sense was that Kerry’s default had to be long as Dublin were waiting to pounce. But neither Ryan, nor the Kerry backs, shirked the responsibility and whilst Dublin did get their hands on two that dropped shy of the 45 both had travelled over the sideline. Dublin were excellent off these set plays winning two quick frees for Rock to tap over but there was no Kerry calamity.
The aerial battle on the kickouts was instructive. Of those 24 kickouts that went past the '45', half were claimed as Marks (six apiece) with both teams looking to use it as an attacking platform rather than just to recycle possession. Nine shots emanated from these 12 Marks with no possession containing more than four passes. Kerry were especially good here creating a shot off all six Marks. Contest the kick out. Win the Mark. Go.
This is all very positive from a Kerry perspective (acknowledging that Dublin were a man down for 42 minutes). But Dublin’s ability on kickouts is not restricted to winning them. It is what they do with these set pieces that sets them apart. From kickout possessions, they scored 1–10 (0.52 points per possession). Kerry returned 0–08 (0.35 ppp).
In a game where the opposition effectively broke even Dublin still managed to gain 0–5.