40 possessions, scored 0-4, 33 passes completed – Dublin’s playmaker dominates replay

Ciaran Kilkenny takes the ball forward.

Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

ONE OF DUBLIN’S great strengths is the versatility of their players. 

James McCarthy, for instance, regularly moves between half-back and midfield, while he’s been used as an emergency full-back on the likes of Michael Murphy and Tommy Walsh in recent years. 

Jonny Cooper can play anywhere in the defence, Brian Howard operates across the half-forward line or midfield, Paul Mannion spent a few years at wing-forward before returning to his natural role in the corner and Con O’Callaghan broke onto the team as a creator at centre-forward but has been used at their primary scorer at full-forward this year.  

Perhaps none of Jim Gavin’s troops can perform such a wide range of duties as Ciaran Kilkenny. The Castleknock man burst onto the scene as a high-scoring inside forward with the Dublin U21s in 2012.

He scored 2-30 during their run to All-Ireland glory, before establishing himself on the senior team in a formidable half-forward line alongside Diarmuid Connolly and Paul Flynn. Kilkenny’s three All-Stars have all come on the half-forward line, but he did play closer to goal last season when he scored 2-24 in the championship. 

When McCarthy went down with a knee injury in 2016, Kilkenny filled in as a ball-carrying wing-back. He racked up an impressive 52 possessions in their quarter-final win over Donegal that year.

“I love playing wherever for the team,” Kilkenny said in 2017. “I played centre-back a lot for my club when I was younger. And actually when I was younger than that, I played a lot at full-back as well.

“So I love playing in defence. I get a great thrill out of it. Half-forward, half-back and midfield, they’re all nearly the same role. You’re in the thick of things. You get to get on breaking ball, you can get tackles in, you get on the play and support the attack.”

Dublin manager Jim Gavin embraces Ciaran Kilkenny after the final whistle.

Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

When Dublin became more possession-based from 2015 onwards, Kilkenny assumed the role of the team’s de-facto point guard. He was the man tasked with running the offence, switching the point of the attack and feeding Dublin’s shooters. 

Kilkenny incredibly logged 62 possessions in the semi-final defeat of Tyrone two years ago, underlining his importance to his team. 

“In a basketball team the point guard’s role in general is to get the ball to the scorers,” former Irish basketball captain Tim McCarthy told The42 before the final that season.

“To me Kilkenny is the point guard, because what he does is he surveys the whole situation. What he does is find players. If you look at the point guard’s role, it’s to get the ball to the scorers. Ciaran Kilkenny in Dublin gets the ball to the scorers.”

Earlier that year, Kilkenny observed that a key part of his role was ensuring his side hold onto the ball.

“An important aspect when you’re playing against blanket defences is retaining possession,” he stated.

He had a stunning pass completion rate of 99.4% in the 2018 championship, completing 144 of 145 handpasses and all 24 of his kick-passes last season. 

Kilkenny was similarly efficient during Saturday night’s replay, completing 33 of his 34 passes by hand or foot. He registered 40 touches of the ball, with eight of those coming in the final 10 minutes as Dublin ran down the clock and dominated possession. 

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The 26-year-old was tracked by Brian O Beaglaoich for most of the game this time around and played the entire first-half at left-half forward.

The vast majority of his plays during the opening period came down the left channel, but when Kilkenny reverted to 11 after the restart he got himself on the ball in every sector of the field. 

Kilkenny started both halves at centre-forward. For the throw-ups he generally makes a direct run towards the midfielders, leaving a huge gap down the middle.

Dublin’s inside trio of O’Callaghan, Dean Rock and Mannion kept wide as Kerry were criminally exposed down the spine of their rearguard.

Nothing came of it in the first-half, but Eoin Murchan exploited the ocean of space created by Kilkenny’s run at the start of the second period to bag the game’s only goal. 

Superb start from the second half throw-in! Eoin Murchan with a @DubGAAOfficial goal pic.twitter.com/5ZlV9vLKVI

— The GAA (@officialgaa) September 14, 2019

After going scoreless in the drawn game, Kilkenny looked determined to make his mark from the off on Saturday night. He had his first score on the board within 90 seconds and his second arrived in the sixth minute after neat link-up play with O’Callaghan.

He provided the pass for scores from Davy Byrne and O’Callaghan during the first period and then tagged on his third point of the night in the 21st minute after an incisive run. By that stage his initial marker Gavin Crowley had been switched with O Beaglaoich.

(Click here if you can’t view the clip above)

Kilkenny’s fourth point arrived after a glorious Diarmuid Connolly slicer that dropped invitingly into his paw.

Sublime pass by Diarmuid Connolly here to set up a Ciarán Kilkenny point! pic.twitter.com/gg7Tabwqls

— The GAA (@officialgaa) September 14, 2019

Kilkenny frequently foraged back in the second-half and pulled off a brilliant block on Jack Sherwood in the 52nd minute to deny Kerry a score.

(Click here if you can’t view the clip above)

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After turning it over, Dublin broke upfield and patiently probed for an opening with Mannion curling over a nice effort after a good screen from Niall Scully. Scully’s subtle check on the defender was another sign of the basketball influence on this Dublin side. 

Gavin’s side frequently use a number of techniques from the hardcourt to engineer space. One example of this is the backdoor cut, which Kieran Donaghy explained in detail earlier this summer.

It’s a move that counteracts defenders who mark up high and attempt to cut out the forward looping around the ball carrier to have a shot at the posts.

Kilkenny likes the trick and he pulled it off twice in the first-half and he was unlucky not to have been awarded a free for a foul by Paul Murphy in the first instance.

(Click here if you can’t view the clip above)

The three-time All-Star frequently changed the focus of the attack when Dublin needed a quick switch and injected pace into the moves by embarking on 12 solo runs at the Kerry defence. 

A deserved man-of-the-match award followed for Kilkenny and he may yet be nominated for Footballer of the Year for the third time in his career.

“It means absolutely everything,” a delighted Kilkenny told Sky Sports afterwards.

“What we put into the last couple of weeks, in terms of preparation, recovery, getting around each other. Our families having to put up with us at home. It just means so much to us. Everyone is so emotional out there on the field.

“Fair play to Kerry, they’re such a great team. Getting over the line just means so much to us. I’ve never felt anything like that before in my life. Everyone running around to each other after the game, it’s an incredible feeling.

“That’s what football is for, that’s what the GAA is all about, and we’re absolutely delighted.

“I’m so lucky – my dad packs my bag before the games and polishes my boots. They do everything for me. My mam just has to put up with me being cranky around the house.

“My family, my close network of friends, they’ve been so supportive throughout the year and we’re just delighted we’ve done it.”

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