Saturday 3 December 2016

Alan Brogan: Football was much more enjoyable under Pillar Caffrey than what we have seen in the past few years

Football as a spectacle is suffering because top attackers are being drawn further from goal

Alan Brogan

Published 24/07/2016 | 17:00

Bernard Brogan, left, and Alan Brogan, Dublin, celebrate with former Dublin manager Paul Caffrey after winning 2011 All Ireland
Bernard Brogan, left, and Alan Brogan, Dublin, celebrate with former Dublin manager Paul Caffrey after winning 2011 All Ireland

For long periods watching the Leinster final last Sunday, I thought to myself how glad I was that my time as an inter-county footballer is up.

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Forwards had no space, limited possession and nowhere to run to make themselves available for a long kick pass. Even if a Dublin forward did receive a kick pass, all they could do was hand pass it back. There were no sweeping moves (when the game was tight) and no opportunities for exciting forwards to take men on one-to-one.

That's the bit that I loved. That was when I thrived as an inter-county footballer.

On Monday, I was texting Bernard, who had been clinical with limited possession when Dublin needed him most. In the last 15 minutes he hardly touched the ball, and this was when the game had opened up - space still wasn't available.

Bernard's greatest asset is his patience, his ability to wait and wait until the ball arrives. They are so few these days that he treats them all as if it's the last ball he will get. Other forwards get anxious when they haven't touched it in 10 minutes, but like a deadly assassin, he will stay close to the opposition goal stalking that tap-in, as he did in the semi-final against Mayo last year, or waiting for the simple handpass to take a point he makes look so simple.

My fear is he is becoming a rarity. The other two great inside forwards - Colm Cooper and Michael Murphy - are being forced out the field in search of space to operate in.

In Michael Murphy’s case, blanket defences have robbed us of the opportunity to see one of the most skilful players in the country in action close to goal. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
In Michael Murphy’s case, blanket defences have robbed us of the opportunity to see one of the most skilful players in the country in action close to goal. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

In Michael Murphy's case particularly, blanket defences have robbed us of the opportunity to see one of the most skilful players in the country in action close to goal. Murphy delivers a Trojan work-rate around the field, but I'd love to see him play at number 14 for a sustained period like Bernard does. His talents could be used much better in there.

Jim McGuinness's comments condemning defensive systems recently are viewed as ironic by some, that it is his fault we have this blanket defence disease on view all over the country week in, week out.

I get where people are coming from but I agree with Jim when we says he had the players to play with a heavy defensive structure and break at serious pace on counter-attacks. The pace they had coming from deep with Karl Lacey, Frank McGlynn and Anthony Thompson validates this point. After Donegal beat Dublin with this system in 2014, many teams, including my own club side, used this blueprint as the way forward.

Dublin's naivety in allowing space in behind paved the way for Donegal. I don't blame McGuinness, I blame us for letting it happen. He spoke about Donegal's resistance to delivering long ball in against Tyrone, but in fairness to the Donegal players, they couldn't kick it in because of the cover Tyrone had in there. Exactly what McGuinness and Donegal had done to us in 2011 and 2014.

His game-plan was to put as many men back as necessary to stop us delivering long balls to the forwards, force us to run it through them, turn us backwards and force turnovers. Dublin, he reasoned, would commit more and more men to the attack to try to break down the wall and would get frustrated. Then they planned to hit us on the counter.

In 2011, Dublin had a much stronger defensive structure and Donegal couldn't break us down in what I must admit was probably the worst Gaelic football match of all time.

In 2014, with Dublin high on confidence and playing a flamboyant style of football, we fell into the McGuinness trap and committed too many men to finding a way through the wall of Donegal defenders.

We let it happen. We got sucked in and left gaping holes behind for Ryan McHugh, Thompson et al to exploit. I don't blame McGuinness, I blame us, the Dubs, for letting it happen. We should have seen it coming. We let the ultra-defensive system triumph over our traditional style of attacking football.

On the back of this victory, club and county games have descended into a quagmire of lacklustre affairs. The Leinster final was a damp squib, the Ulster final was a spectacle because of the two giants competing against each other, but bar Seán Cavanagh's heroics and Peter Harte's score at the death, from a football perspective it was a tame affair.

I listened to a podcast I did with Ciarán Whelan last week and it reminded me of Pillar Caffrey's time in charge. Granted, we were no world-beaters, but the football was much more enjoyable than what we have seen in the last few years.

I YouTubed some clips and fell upon the Leinster final against Wexford in 2008. Diarmuid Connolly got 1-3 that day in his first Leinster decider, I got 1-4 and had another two goal chances. There are clips of Shane Ryan galloping through the middle, Mattie Forde getting one-on-one with David Henry and clipping scores, long kick passes to space - all the things I love about Gaelic football. It was eight minutes of pleasure.

I'm sure Gooch could pick out similar clips, Andy Moran the same. They would be harder pressed to pick them out from 2011 onwards. Most notably, the upper tiers in Croke Park that day were close to full; last Sunday they weren't even open. A sign of the times maybe. A sign that the spectacle of only eight years ago is not there now.

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