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Home / News / Total football versus total faith as Dubs face Derry

Total football versus total faith as Dubs face Derry

Dublin, reigning champions, ahead of the pack, tactically changing the game and seemingly getting stronger. No, unfortunately (well unfortunately for everyone outside the county limits) I’m not reminiscing about mid Jim Gavin era Dubs. I’m talking of Dessie Farrell’s Modern Dublin 3.0.

Pat Gilroy, Gavin and now Farrell – the three men faced three different tasks. Arguably Dessie, following on from Gavin, had the most daunting.

Winning an All-Ireland in his first year didn’t bring any vindication or credibility. It was seen as still Gavin’s team running on autopilot with Dessie observing from the driver’s seat. Unfair, probably, but that’s how it seemed.

The sense of joy and relief that met last year’s win spoke volumes: that was his win, his way. Ciarán Kilkenny’s time on the bench spoke volumes for Farrell’s determination to change approach.

That win has been followed by a resurgence in confidence this spring. The aura that marked their six-in-a-row run is quickly returning.

A lot of the football Dublin have played in the league, especially since the first two rounds, has been to a standard that I haven’t seen another team play. Ever.

Even as I type I recognise that sounds like I’m getting ridiculously carried away. Of course, the performances should be caveated by the fact that it’s league, not championship and further caveated by it being a league where it’s obvious not all teams are going with everything they have.

But still.

Spend enough time watching them and the quality only appears to increase. The footballing ability of their entire group is excellent, and while this is most obvious when looking at the consistency of their basic skills, for me, it’s their determination to attack hard and their tackling ability that is their ultimate unique selling point.

The latter is the game changer.

When the defensive side of your game is such that you trust yourself to win the ball back or at the very least not sustain major damage, you lose the fear of the turnover. This alone accounts for so much of Dublin under Dessie.

Why would you lump it into the full-forward line? Con O’Callaghan is one good reason

His team now are continually having a direct go at their opponents. Taking men on in 1v1 situations and going into contact are actions of a team that is backing itself.

Lumping ball into the full-forward line? Sure, why not? Worst thing that can happen, you lose the ball. Best thing? Well, there’s Con.

The problem for opponents is that their quality is such that even when attacking hard or going into contact and crowded spaces, their ball retention is at a different level than practically all other teams.

They are finding out very few teams can cope with them. The turnover risk they were calculating is even lower than they probably expected and so they’ve grown in confidence as the league has progressed.

Into this arena come Derry. Why this match-up has so much potential is because Derry are the one team that can match up to the Dubs in the ball retention stakes.

There are though subtle differences. Derry have not loosened the reins just as much as Dublin and continue to place a real emphasis on retaining the ball. They match this with a brilliant ability to break down a set defence.

Their collective understanding of each other’s runs and how to move an opposition about to create openings is superb. Within their more structured attacks they still, like Dublin, have clearly done plenty of work in taking on opponents in 1v1 situations.

Mickey Harte is instilling total faith in his Derry side

In a game where one group are going for their first national title while the other are going for their…(umm, let’s not go there), it’s clear that Derry have more questions to answer and have more to get from this game. Their stated ambition of winning an All-Ireland is clear and looks attainable.

Their biggest opponents to that goal are Dublin. In last year’s Division 2 final, Derry were the new kids on the block and probably lacked that deep-seated belief.

On that front, there has been a definite change, but they’ll believe even more if they can really push Dublin in this one. Mickey’s gospel, as with Tyrone, is ‘Total Faith’.

He’s attempting to redo the trick and the signs are very much that it’s working. For Derry to match up on Sunday though, they must find a balance to their defensive side of the game. In last year’s league final, they pushed up and Dublin ran through them for seven clear goal chances.

In this year’s league game, they dropped back but Dublin picked them apart with a surgeon’s skill, making their blanket defence more like a string vest. It’s clear that both teams can’t afford to let each other have easy possession.

I expect to see the majority of kick-outs long and probably contested. I expect to see pressure being brought right across the pitch at times and a real emphasis on man against man defending and tracking.

There will of course be times when a team will need to drop off when they’ve been caught down the pitch or out of shape, but this will, I suspect, be the exception rather than key game plan.

I travelled to Celtic Park relishing the prospect of a classic. Until Mickey Harte did a very much non-Mickey Harte thing and sent out a virtual second team.

Maybe that’s what these two teams are all about. A freshness of thought and willingness to have a go in a way we haven’t seen since Mr McGuinness changed the rules of engagement over a decade ago.

Since then, the game has struggled to find its feet again, hence Jarlath Burns forming his rules review A-team.

But Sunday might just provide evidence that the game is alive and well. Brian Fenton v Conor Glass, Con O’Callaghan v Chrissy McKaigue, Shane McGuigan v Eoin Murchan – new age skills, tactical masterclasses and old school 1v1 battles.

This game might just have it all.

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