independent

Wednesday 16 April 2014

High time managers made improving players' skills a New Year's resolution

I have rarely been interested in the 'Reviews of the Year' that media outlets depend upon for some of their material in the weeks before Christmas. What's gone is gone and cannot be changed.

Instead, I prefer to look forward to the year that lies ahead because we can always anticipate wonderful things happening in sport over the next 12 months. That is the very rationale of sport, the possibility of what might happen in the future.

There is hardly a schoolchild in the country that does not dream of his county winning the All-Ireland next year – along with their favourite team winning the Premier League, of course. Where would any sports person be without their dreams?

But I also like to anticipate things of a more tangible nature that might take place in 2013 and in football I think of what could make the game even more attractive to play and watch, either live or on television.

impress

For example, there are many things that the inter-county managers could do that would really impress the fans and provide them with the feel-good factor, as well, of course, as improving their own team.

For starters, they could apply themselves to counteracting the over-defensive tactics of the modern game instead of imitating them.

Is it not strange that over the past 50 years, the percentage of scores from attacking attempts in Gaelic football has not improved one iota?

And this is despite all the immense improvements in fitness levels, psychological mentoring of players, technological advancements such as the use of DVDs and the presence of very high-profile managers, of whom there were none 50 years ago.

Despite all that, the scoring rate in football is still less than 50pc of attempts. If one makes a similar comparison with rugby, then the change in scoring rates is extraordinary nowadays compared with 50 years ago.

Granted, the rugby people have managed to use rule changes to very positive effect but that hardly explains the dramatic increase in scores compared to long ago.

Maybe Gaelic games managers and coaches are too conservative in their thinking regarding the principles of scoring and too mindful of stopping opponents from scoring rather than applying themselves to getting more scores for their own team.

Trends in recent years seem to prove both points as we have seen more and more managers concentrating on making their own teams more defensive minded than their opponents with an inevitable lesser concentration on getting more scores themselves. There was one notable exception in recent times to this malaise – Dublin in 2010 and 2011, particularly the latter year when they won the All-Ireland.

Pat Gilroy got his players to win matches by going out on a limb to get good scoring tallies and, in the process, they opened up opposing teams that had previously been spending most of their time building up elaborate defensive systems.

The one exception, of course, was in the 2011 semi-final against Donegal, who learned that day that ultra-defensive systems will rarely win the biggest prize in any form of football.

So, as a smart manager, Jim McGuinness quickly moved to put far more emphasis on attack and won the All-Ireland the following year. A story with a moral if ever there was one.

skills

Managers could also do us all a great favour by spending more time coaching the key skills of the game to a very high degree. There seems to be an assumption that because you are a county player you are automatically a master of all the basic skills. Well, God help their innocence for that.

Is there any regular football follower who is not amazed at the inability of the majority of forwards to kick the ball from play over the bar from 30 to 40 metres? Thank God for the exceptions; otherwise football would really be a contest between free-takers.

There are lots of ways that managers could improve their own teams and the game in general if they were adventurous enough but I am not betting on an outbreak of football bravery like that.

Too easy to stay part of the crowd, get the players stronger and fitter, pack the backlines and hope to snatch narrow victories by scoring 12 points or less. Pity.

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