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Sherlock has cracked the case of improving Dublin's attack

By Peter Canavan

Published 05/08/2016

Drinking it in: Jim Gavin is reaping the benefit of backroom changes
Drinking it in: Jim Gavin is reaping the benefit of backroom changes

There's a story I heard recently and for me it sums up the current Dublin football regime.

A friend of a friend brought his six-year-old down to training at Ballyboden St Enda's on a Saturday morning and it being one of the biggest nurseries in the country, it was packed with kids.

Everything was well organised and the bunch of lively 'eager beavers' were broken up into groups of seven or eight. There was an army of coaches standing at different stations, teaching one particular skill to each group. After about four minutes a whistle was blown, and the groups moved on to their next station.

So, my man was watching his young fella and after doing the 'pick-up' for four minutes, he moved on to the kick-pass. He looked out at the coach and did a double-take. This coach had quickly caught their attention - there was a 'shush' as they listened intently to his every word.

"It couldn't be," the father remarked. "Wow, it is Jim Gavin!"

That is the thing with Dublin footballers under Gavin - he treats every task and everyone the same, be it sending out the best footballers in front of 82,000 or teaching the basics to the next generation. What you see is what you get. And what you get is humility and an understanding that you are a cog in the wheel, and you're left in no doubt the work of each cog is essential if it is to go forward.

Tomorrow, Donegal stand in their way of an All-Ireland semi-final with Kerry. Yet for all their rivalry with the Kingdom, Donegal are the team who've had the greatest influence on how Dublin play. The landmark 2011 All-Ireland semi-final, in which Pat Gilroy's team inched their way to a 0-8 to 0-6 victory, and the corresponding fixture three years later, which saw Gavin's men torn asunder, were lessons taken on board. Things had to change and they have.

One of the key changes is the addition of Jason Sherlock as a forwards coach. He joined in December 2014 and for me, his influence is now only really showing and it can be seen in how the sleight of hand has improved in the Dublin attack.

Under pressure from mass defences, the forwards are now able to move the ball much quicker and you will often see them recycling the ball in 'pods' of three like a basketball team - hand-passing in a circle until one of them spots a gap.

Of course, Jayo played basketball and will be well aware that developing fast hands is something that can be worked on in training with the right drills. But the hard work is paying off. It's rare now that you see a Dublin forward going on a gung-ho, solo run which will take him into a tackle - instead, he's looking to off-load, create space and make himself available to take the return.

This ploy will need to be carried out with precision if Dublin are to come out on top because Donegal will have no fear. They also possess game intelligence for the big day.

Rory Gallagher's men get plenty of bad press and have been labelled a negative team, yet if you were to do a highlights package of the championship to date, the goals of Odhran MacNiallais, points of Ryan McHugh in the Ulster final and performance of Paddy McBrearty last Saturday would feature prominently.

McHugh has been their best forward this summer and his ability to cover ground is crucial to their game-plan. He also did damage to Dublin two years ago, so Gavin will be acutely aware of his influence.

You can be sure that Michael Murphy will be placed on the edge of the square at some stage, and high, diagonal balls will be pumped in.

By the midway point of the second-half, Donegal are likely to have thrown everything they have at them, and by then, I believe their ageing players will have little more to give. That's when Gavin will roll in the talent from his bench, a luxury which Gallagher just doesn't have, and that strength in depth will seal another Dubs v Kerry date.

Belfast Telegraph

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