| 12.6°C Dublin

spillane's view Sadly, we can forget about the return of romanticism to Gaelic football

I warned you gung-ho, attacking philosophy in League was just a blip

Close

Kevin Flynn of Kildare in action against Niall McNamee of Offaly during the Leinster GAA Football Senior Championship Quarter-Final match between Kildare and Offaly at MW Hire O'Moore Park in Portlaoise, Laois. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Kevin Flynn of Kildare in action against Niall McNamee of Offaly during the Leinster GAA Football Senior Championship Quarter-Final match between Kildare and Offaly at MW Hire O'Moore Park in Portlaoise, Laois. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Kevin Flynn of Kildare in action against Niall McNamee of Offaly during the Leinster GAA Football Senior Championship Quarter-Final match between Kildare and Offaly at MW Hire O'Moore Park in Portlaoise, Laois. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Can I remind you of something I wrote after the first couple of rounds of this year’s Allianz Football League?

At the time everybody was jumping on the bandwagon, telling us we were on the verge of a new age in the game.

Defensive, safety-first football would be consigned to the bin, due to this new enlightened approach.

I think I was the only pundit who poured cold water all over this theory.

At the time, I argued that what we were witnessing was a blip, not a trend.

Players were expressing a natural exuberance after months of existing on a regime of gym work and solo stamina runs.

Now, after being finally set loose it was natural they would play gung-ho football.

The shackles were off, and they could play with a bit of freedom.

Close

The first-half of Kildare and Offaly in Portlaoise was grim viewing.

The first-half of Kildare and Offaly in Portlaoise was grim viewing.

The first-half of Kildare and Offaly in Portlaoise was grim viewing.

Shock horror, teams were trying to beat the opposition by actually putting more scores on the board.

Even though modern coaching gurus have browbeaten us into believing that the game has evolved, there is no getting away from the fact that the team that scores most still wins.

I warned at the time that what we were witnessing a blip. I predicted that come championship time normal service would have resumed.

And the return to safety-first, conservative and defensive tactics during the first two weeks of the championship has fulfilled my prophecy.

Sadly, we can forget about the return of romanticism to Gaelic football.

The simple notion that focusing on forward play is the key to success has been crushed again.

Sunday World Newsletter

Sign up for the latest news and updates

This field is required This field is required

Dubious

The coaching gurus are back in charge. Most of them are well paid, though many have a dubious record when it comes to delivering silverware.

However, they all have the ability to spout the kind of jargon which intoxicates county-board officials, who appoint them in the first place.

They have got their mojo back. The absence of the back-door format in this year’s championship has given them the perfect excuse to revert to type.

So, it’s all about Plan A – come to think about it, they don’t have any other plan.

Close

Donegal goalkeeper Shaun Patton had an easy task.

Donegal goalkeeper Shaun Patton had an easy task.

Donegal goalkeeper Shaun Patton had an easy task.

This plan is simple – bring everybody behind the 45m line once possession is lost. Block up the scoring zone and remember the golden rule – possession is king.

Their entire project revolves around statistics. At the two water breaks and at half-time, the statisticians provide all the key data: who has had most possessions, what’s the turnover count and who is winning the battle for the kick-outs

For starters, the possession stats are largely irrelevant because nowadays players simply offload the ball laterally to a colleague who is standing nearby. It might look good on paper, but it means nothing in the context of the match.

The kick-out stats are something of a misnomer as well. Given the negativity instilled in the players by coaches in most counties, the players sprint into a defensive position once the opposition has a kick-out.

So, the goalkeeper merely pops the ball to a colleague who is standing unmarked 20 metres away. For example, the Donegal goalkeeper Shaun Patton had a 95 per cent success rate with his kick-outs against Down. Rory Beggan did even better for Monaghan against Fermanagh – he achieved 100 per cent.

What happened, of course, was that Down and Fermanagh didn’t contest the kick-outs. As Mark Twain wrote ‘there are lies, damn lies and statistics.’

Manicured

But in modern-day football stats are king – possession in nine tenths of the law and the fear of losing supersedes the prospect of winning.

I was in Portlaoise last Sunday doing co-commentary on the Leinster quarter-final between Kildare and Offaly.

Played in perfect weather conditions and on a beautiful manicured pitch, it fell way below my expectations.

The first half was particularly forgettable. It was ‘formula’ football at its very worst, with 26 players inside the 45-metre line at any one time.

There was a lack of imagination as the two sides huffed and puffed in their attempts to break through the opposition’s blanket defence.

The standard of kick passing was woeful. But how could outfield players hit their respective target players, Niall McNamee and Jimmy Hyland, when the area in front of them was as crowded as Christmas Eve?

The first half stats – even I’m falling into that trap – made grim reading.

Kildare led 0-6 to 0-5, there were just four points – two from each team – scored from play. There were 13 wides and four shots dropped short. It was forgettable, to put it mildly.

Thankfully, as the second half progressed and players tired, the game opened up.

Perhaps it dawned on them that if they didn’t try to score their season was over. We had a Eureka moment – the teams tried to outscore each other.

I have decided to keep the best wine until last. Okay, I’m being sarcastic.

But let’s reflect on the horror story of that first half between Roscommon and Galway.

Granted there were mitigating circumstances – the weather was atrocious.

But the defensive set-ups of both teams in the first half made for very painful viewing. I pulled in on the hard shoulder and watched that first half on the GAAGO app on my mobile phone.

Boy, how I regretted that decision. Talk about wasting 35 plus minutes of my life.

At one point, RTE co-commentator Dessie Dolan alluded to the fact that Steve Poacher had joined the Roscommon back-room team this season.

He wondered what Poacher would bring to the set-up. I was taken aback by Dessie’s innocence.

It was akin to asking why does the postman call to your house. Like the postman, Poacher always delivers.

But what he delivers is an ultra-defensive set-up. It’s a safety-first, damage limitation exercise which will never deliver silverware.

Like communism, it is a failed philosophy. It was found out years ago.

Defensively, Roscommon have never struggled – particularly in their matches in Connacht.

Their issues are all at the other end of the pitch. During their failed Division 1 campaign this year they were the lowest scorers.

Aspiring

Recruiting a defensive coach was the equivalent of employing an electrician to fix a leak.

On Sunday the home side Roscommon never looked like winning.

Their six starting forwards scored 0-2, while the four forward replacements contributed 0-1. So, ten forwards contributed the grand total of 0-3 from play. I rest my case.

The messages for all aspiring coaches is to devise a game plan to win the game, not just contain the opposition.

And, as for the notion that we will see champagne football this summer I’m not holding my breath. But I did warn everybody what would happen.

Download the Sunday World app

Now download the free app for all the latest Sunday World News, Crime, Irish Showbiz and Sport. Available on Apple and Android devices


Top Videos





Privacy