Darragh O'Se column in the Irish Times May 27, 2015 9:58:38 GMT
Post by glengael on May 27, 2015 9:58:38 GMT
Darragh Ó Sé: Best blanket defence based on blistering counterattack
Monaghan’s blanket is more evolved than Cavan’s and they did homework better too
So that’s it, I suppose? No more sledging. All sorted. The Cavan v Monaghan game on Sunday passed by without any incident. Nothing on camera, no complaints from either side. All sweetness and light. Ulster football for altar boys.
I doubt it somehow. What that looked like to me on Sunday was a classroom that is after having the riot act read to it by the teacher. The law is laid down. All the messing stops, but only for a while. The teacher gets a good five or 10 minutes of silence.
In that scenario, you don’t want to be the first fella caught. You don’t mind being the second or third fella because the heat is gone by then and it’s all back to normal. The first lad will get the pasting from the teacher. After that, it’s a free-for-all.
The sledging is just at that five-to-10-minute period right now. The whole class knows not to step out of line just for the minute. Too many eyes, too many ears. But the summer is long and it’ll all start up again before you know it. Nothing surer.
I enjoyed that game on Sunday. Monaghan try to play a bit of football, whereas Cavan are more limited and one-dimensional. There’s no go-to guy for them – basically, there’s no Conor McManus to produce a few magic points out of nowhere. They attack in an ad-hoc kind of way, improvising, hoping, depending on wing-backs to kick points with the outside of the boot from 50 yards to give them a bit of momentum.
But that will only get them so far.
Bigger team with more options
The best teams have the best options. Monaghan had an option that Cavan didn’t. McManus was able to give them something that Cavan couldn’t match. As they go forward through the summer, they’re likely to come up against a bigger team with more options and McManus alone won’t be enough for them.
There were two aspects of the game I found really interesting – the blanket defences and the goalkeepers. Blanket defences are with us now and will be with us into the future. The best are the ones that become more refined and are used as springboards for wing backs and corner backs to bomb forward. Those are the ones we will see in Croke Park in August.
The best use of that system depends on players covering for each other. One goes up, another drops into his space to cover it off. It’s move and cover, slot in and slot out. And unless you’re doing it automatically, you will lose your shape and if the opposition is patient enough and observant enough, they will hurt you.
To execute the blanket system properly, you need a team full of guys who play without emotion. They don’t get rushes of blood to the head and start trying mad individual stuff. They buy into the system and they trust it. Total faith is the key.
One point that Monaghan scored at the start of the second half was fascinating, I thought. Karl O’Connell sprinted up from wing back straight from the throw-in. It was a brilliant burst of pace and power. He left his own man for dead and broke through the Cavan defence.
He did it at the start of the first half as well, so it was obviously no accident. Those were the two times in the whole game where Cavan would only have six defenders back. So he gave it everything he had both times.
I don’t know if people properly realise what it feels like to go on a lung-bursting run like that on a big championship afternoon. The place is buzzing, the crowd is roaring, the temperature is high. Everything is heightened.
I guarantee you that if you brought young O’Connell back there the following day and timed him making the same run from where he got the ball to where he scored his point, he would be slower doing it no matter how much effort he put in. The simple reason is that the adrenaline won’t be the same. The urgency can’t be replicated. Atmosphere has an effect.
It was an excellent score. I even loved the way he threw himself to the ground to save himself getting decorated by the goalkeeper at the end. He was going at such a pace that he could have been poleaxed very easily with no real price to the goalkeeper, so he dived full-length and used the fact that he had his hands out in front of him anyway to spare him as he hit the deck.
But the point itself isn’t what really grabbed me. It was what O’Connell did in the aftermath of it. Go back and watch it again – Cavan take the kick-out but he doesn’t so much as lift his head to see where it went. He is part of a system and the whereabouts of the kick-out isn’t his concern.
I watched him the whole way back because the camera zoomed out and you could see him at the bottom of the screen. He was looking at the ground for the most part, running in a straight line back to his own 45. The game was going on but he wasn’t a part of it. All that was on his mind was to get back, get set, get in position.
The ball could have whizzed over his head and he wouldn’t have known a thing about it. All it was about for him was to get his body back there. He didn’t even have to do much when he got there – the important thing was that by the time Cavan worked the ball far enough up the pitch, his white shirt could be seen in position.
It’s like going to a funeral. You don’t necessarily have to go and shake everybody’s hand when you’re there – as long as you’re seen to be there, it’s usually enough.
O’Connell’s white jersey being back in the vicinity of the wing-back position fulfilled his role after scoring the point. It cut off options for Cavan and marked off that patch of grass as a no-go area.
This is what the blanket is all about. Cover off angles so that the opposition has to go to a second or third or fourth option with the ball. And playing against a team like Cavan where those options are limited, you should eventually break them down. O’Connell didn’t have to make a tackle but he’d done his job.
And in the best blanket systems, the key is the counterattack. Get the bodies back to close off the options, make them run into blind alleys, cut them off, turn them over and break at pace. Cavan have a decent blanket defence but they haven’t got it right in terms of being able to counterattack.
There is one very noticeable side-effect, however. Defenders do less and less defending these days. When the system is based on numbers, it’s hard to make people accountable. If something is everybody’s job, then it’s nobody’s job.
I thought it was very significant on Sunday after McManus scored his first point from play that his marker Feargal Flanagan turned around and gave out to his team-mates. Flanagan had a very good game, all in all. When you’re playing on someone of McManus’s quality, you’re going to get skinned once in a while.
But I just thought it was interesting that he would turn and berate his team-mates after getting done like that. His complaint seemed to be, “Ah here, am I expected to mark this man on my own?”
When you have a blanket defence, that’s a two-man job at least. That’s where we are now – defenders getting annoyed when they’re left on their own with their man. Safety in numbers, with less and less accountability.
The game is changing all the time and the demands we place on the different players in the different positions are changing with it. Take the Cavan goalkeeper on Sunday, Ray Galligan. He was drafted in under the cover of darkness – never played a game in goal before, an outfield player thrown into his first ever championship game in an alien position.
Cavan obviously felt they could do this because they know that their blanket defence won’t give up too many goal chances. The deal with goalkeepers was always very straightforward – save the easy ones, do your best with the hard ones and make sure and kick the ball good and far out the field. If we’re doing well on the left, keep kicking left. If we’re doing well on the right, keep kicking right.
It’s all different now. Cavan picked him the way the Aussies used pick their goalkeeper in the Compromise Rules. Not just the Aussies, actually. I remember one year we picked Niall Buckley there for Ireland because he could pick out a pass over 50 or 60 yards into your mouth. Whether he could stop a shot or not didn’t come into it.
Same with my man on Sunday. He was there for kick-outs and for long-range frees. He’s obviously a very good kicker of a ball but the ability to do it isn’t the issue. The ability to do it under pressure is what matters. You need to keep your nerve above all else.
Monaghan sniffed out very quickly that the Cavan goalie was new to this. They got in his eyeline and waved their hands around and put him off. They covered off the quick kick-outs and made him change his mind – once, twice, three times a lady.
There was a perfect incident for them around the 20th minute. Kieran Hughes ran in until he was about six yards away from the ball and then retreated. The ref whistled at him, Hughes held his hand up. Sorry, ref. My fault, ref. Won’t happen again.
Meanwhile, Galligan went up and came back, up and back. Monaghan forwards spilt between defenders, changing his mind for him. Three seconds, four seconds, five seconds. The crowd started to get on his back. Kick it out! Kick it out!
You could see him thinking he was in trouble here, maybe the ref would come in and hop the ball. Six seconds, seven. Kick it out! He kicked it out, anywhere will do. Blaze it out long, get rid of it. It went straight into the arms of Darren Hughes.
When the short kick-out is taken out of your armoury, you get flustered and you find yourself in a panic. Look at Paul Durcan in the All-Ireland final. One of the best kickers in the game and all of a sudden his mind is scrambled and suddenly the ball is in the net.
The game now is all doing your homework and trusting your system. Those who do it best will be more and more obvious as the summer goes along.