It may be only February and the early stages in the 2022 senior inter-county football season but teams are already under pressure to perform.

With the compacted formatting of competitions this year managers and their coaching teams do not have as much time to prepare and fine tune their sides, as was the case in pre-Covid times.

Teams in all four divisions are rightly being scrutinised and Allianz League form may well be a more accurate barometer of championship form than ever before.

Of all the teams in the Allianz League, few are analysed to the same degree as Dublin. We are all well aware of their success, winning eight All-Irelands in 10 years. Jim Gavin's Dublin teams had a win rate of 91.7%, winning games by an average of 10.8 points.

Simply incredible stats.

Huge credit must also go to Pat Gilroy and Dessie Farrell in how they managed All-Ireland winning teams in that period.

While there has been a very public debate on funding for various sectors of GAA in the capital, there are some coaching-led traits of the Dublin teams that led to their unprecedented success, which have to be considered when weighing up their present position as they prepare to avoid three defeats in a row in their league game against Mayo this evening.

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Tactical Acumen

While managers are the figureheads of teams, when it comes to players being prepared for their role on match day, it is the coaches that are the vital facilitators. Dublin have had an array of influential coaches such as Jason Sherlock, Declan Darcy, Mick Bohan, Darren Daly, Paul Clarke, Brian O’Regan, Mick Galvin, Mick Deegan and Mickey Whelan.

Since the days of Pat Gilroy, Dublin teams have exhibited outstanding on-field levels of tactical acumen and game management. Match after match, starters and substitutes all appeared to be on the same wavelength.

This type of understanding takes time. County and club coaches, including myself, have looked on in awe at how Dublin set up and play. Regardless of the competition, opposition or stage in game Dublin’s players seemed focused on following the process set out by their management.

Dominate Possession

Dublin have greatly influenced the move towards a possession-driven game. Patience playing against blanket defences and the ability to keep possession long enough to get key shooters on the ball close to goal has been a hallmark of Dublin teams.

A key aspect of any possession-based game is retaining ball from your kick-outs. Stephen Cluxton, supported by his managers and coaches like Josh Moran and Davy Byrne, revolutionised kick-outs. Short, medium or long kick-outs - Dublin always had options. No panic. Just keep following the process.

The Cluxton kick-out became central to Dublin's gameplan

Dublin under Jim Gavin never got the credit they deserved for carrying out the fundamental skills of football better than other teams. Kicking, catching and hand passing were carried out with precision.

More than any team before, Dublin players were comfortable kicking and handling off left and right. Stats from the likes of Johnny Bradley, Rob Carroll, and Ray Boyne have illustrated to us that Dublin at their best simply made less errors in possession than their opponents.

Score Goals

Regularly it is discussed how goals have an influence on a game greater than three points. Dublin during their run of success scored goals for fun. In particular they showed a ruthlessness to score goals at keys times in games, just before and after half-time.

Even in the most pressurised environment, they scored goals. Ten goals in All-Ireland finals from 2011 to 2020, conceding only five. During my time as a coach/manager preparing and analysing Dublin, I often wondered, 'how are they so proficient at scoring goals?’.

In conversations with the players, they assured me it is as simple as 'we are good at it because we practice it over and over again'. A real lesson for all of us coaches. Know what you want and practice it.

Talent & Brain Drain

An obvious reason for Dublin not retaining Sam Maguire in 2021 and struggling for form in this year’s league is the talent drain. Let’s be clear: it’s not just talent drain, but it is also brain drain as so many key players that had the winning know-how have departed.

During their run to the All-Ireland club final, much was made of Paul Mannion’s absence for Kilmacud Crokes through injury. He is just one of the exceptional players that are not available for selection for various reasons.

How can you replace generational talent such as Stephen Cluxton, Paul Flynn, Cian O’Sullivan, Diarmuid Connolly, Jack McCaffrey, Michael Darragh MacAuley and Bernard Brogan?

Jim Gavin worked hard to develop a panel of players. In 48 championship matches as manager he used his full allowance of substitutes on 46 occasions. These subs contributed on average 3.5 points per game.

For any manager or coach having time to work with players in games and training is key. Relationships and understanding take time, while player retention is vital.

Dessie Farrell has not been in a position to have the consistency of team selection as Jim Gavin. Key players like Jonny Cooper, Con O’Callaghan and James McCarthy have been badly missed.

Against Armagh, Dublin fielded 11 players that had played and won in All Ireland finals, against Kerry that figure dropped to nine.

While it is clear that there is still huge experience in the Dublin squad, there is not the same collective strength as there was a number of years ago.

Lorcan O'Dell is one of a new crop of Dublin players tryign to bed in during a difficult start to the campaign

Time is needed to allow players such as Lee Gannon, Tom Lahiff, Aaron Byrne, Ross McGarry, Cameron McCormack, Ciaran Archer, Lorcan O’Dell and Sean McMahon to develop and fill the void.

It is more difficult to develop a team that is struggling for form. We all know patience is not a trait that GAA fans can be credited with.

Bar Stephen Cluxton, the entire team that started the 2020 All-Ireland final are still available for selection. The big challenge will be getting them all fit to play and gelling the multi All-Ireland winning players with all the newcomers.

Winning makes that gelling process so much easier. Regardless of what happens this weekend in Croke Park against Mayo, Dublin will still be contenders for this year’s Championship.

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