Former Dublin defender Ger Brennan believes the All-Ireland holders have grown too cautious and need to rekindle their spirit of ‘adventure’ to beat Mayo at the second attempt.
Brennan was Dublin’s centre-back when they beat Mayo in the 2013 final but claimed their attacking edge has been slowly blunted as a result of losing to Donegal the following season.
The two-time All-Ireland medallist said that while Dublin used to be all about ‘attack, attack, attack’, now their first instinct is often to play it safe and recycle possession.
He reckons they got the balance just right last year when they defended in greater numbers and hit teams hard on the break.
But the St Vincent’s man argued that their lack of penetration and poor scoring return in the drawn final with Mayo eight days ago was down to their increasing conservatism.
He pointed to the ‘altered’ role of Ciarán Kilkenny whose possession statistics have gone through the roof this season but who is also completing more short, lateral hand passes than before.
Asked if Kilkenny and Dublin generally need to add more risk to their game to overcome Mayo in Saturday’s All-Ireland final replay, Brennan nodded.
“A bit of adventure, yeah, more adventure,” said Brennan.
“We went from attack, attack, attack to getting a massive lesson against Donegal in the semi-final of 2014 and then saying to ourselves, ‘okay, let’s get a balance, let’s know when to go and attack in numbers but also know when to recycle it’. We actually got that balance really well last year. But it’s got to a point now where it looks like it’s ‘recycle it all the time’. That sense of adventure is not quite there. It’s gone the wrong way.”
Former Dublin player Barry Cahill claimed after the drawn final that Kilkenny in particular has become ‘way too safe’ with his play this season.
Brennan reckons that it is symptomatic of a team that is consistently coming up against packed out defences and, as a result, has lost some of its instinctive directness.
“I would rather see Ciarán try to stay in the forwards and move the ball forward moreso,” said Brennan. “It probably ties into that group mentality that the team are preparing to play against a packed defence and they’re looking to recycle, recycle, probe, come back, probe, create a shot opportunity.
“And that’s fine but that killer instinct that Ciarán has and the other forwards around him do have has probably been, I wouldn’t say damaged, but it’s been altered in some shape or form. They’re not going (forward) instinctively when there’s an opportunity to take on their man.”
Brennan predicted that Jim Gavin will make minimal changes to his team for the replay and display faith in a team that has consistently delivered.
Brennan’s St Vincent’s club colleague, Diarmuid Connolly, will hope to be more influential after being largely shut down by Lee Keegan.
“It’s a challenge for Diarmuid that he has to, I guess, get more involved in the game from an offensive point of view,” said Brennan. “In fairness to him, if you watch his work rate off the ball when we haven’t got the ball it’s immense.
“Also, he’s clever enough to know that he is being marked by someone like Keegan so draw him out to the sidelines and create space. Then the onus is on other players.
“I remember after the quarter-final against Tyrone in 2011, Mickey Harte commenting that they tried to do a man marking job on Alan Brogan and double up on him and Bernard as well. Diarmuid probably wasn’t seen as being as consistent as he is now and popped up with seven scores.
“Maybe in the same way, five years later, Diarmuid is the marked man now and someone else needs to come up with the goods.”
Ger Brennan was speaking at the official opening of the 90th McDonald’s restaurant in Ireland on Dublin’s East Wall Road.
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