Sunday 11 December 2016

Eugene McGee: If you insist on playing all-out defence, at least do it right

Published 08/02/2016 | 02:30

Cavan duo Killian Clarke (left) and Conor Moynagh show their disappointment after the defeat to Derry. Photo: Sportsfile
Cavan duo Killian Clarke (left) and Conor Moynagh show their disappointment after the defeat to Derry. Photo: Sportsfile

I headed for Kingspan Breffni Park on Saturday afternoon fearing the worst. The elements were in ferocious mood, with howling gales and lashing rain, and when I added in the fact that I was going to see one of these notorious All-Ulster clashes, I expected it would be hard slogging.

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But in fact the elements decided to take a break at around 6.0pm and Breffni Park looked in wonderful shape when their brilliant floodlights were turned on. The pathetic attendance for a home game for Cavan was disappointing but maybe the local fans had decided earlier that football was not for them on this occasion.

What emerged from 7.0 onwards was a contradiction to what I had expected. Both Cavan and Derry played quite a lot of constructive, open football. The infamous physical element so beloved of Ulster football fans was there but not to any negative effect as both sets of players went out to play open football.

Of course there were massed defence tactics from both teams, but this did not dominate the game and the overall standard of play was pleasantly good - for two Ulster teams in opposition.

Capitalised

This was a game that Cavan lost themselves for a variety of reasons. Even though they had the advantage of a strong wind in the first half they never really capitalised on that and only led by 0-8 to 0-5 at half-time.

I was disappointed with the level of intensity they showed.

Some of their players were almost lackadaisical in their approach and as for making physical contact, they must have thought that was a contagious disease. God be with the days when Cavan players could hit and be hit, but that seems a distant memory now.

In that first half both teams immediately rushed like a herd of sheep whenever their attack was in danger with the usual 12-plus reinforcements in place before the forwards could get a fair chance of achieving anything.

No wonder it was 0-4 apiece after 28 minutes!

A good, or maybe that should be bad, example of the modern insistence of slowing down the play came half way through that first half. A Cavan defender won the ball about 40 yards out from his goals and proceeded to go on a solo run for about 70 yards down the centre of the field.

While that was going on the Derry reinforcements had arrived to place themselves in the backline so when the Cavan player got down that far his colleagues were outnumbered.

A poor pass was given under pressure, a Derry defender literally took the ball out of the Cavan man's hands and in a flash the ball had been transferred about 100 yards to the top right-hand corner where a Derry forward had plenty of time to hit a point - and remember Cavan lost this game by just one point.

If you are going to play all-out defence, at least learn how to do it right.

The most interesting thing about this game was the transformation in the Derry approach once they got the wind in the second half. Gone was the tendency for mass defence but instead they opened up the play, used a lot of long foot-passing and above all put long high balls into the Cavan fullback line, which had always looked suspect.

This change of style paid rich dividends and led to them scoring 1-7 in the second half. A five-man passing move, leading to a fisted goal, in the third minute of the half by O'Boyle set them on their way.

In fairness to Cavan they did improve their earlier non-existent tackling in the second half and even got stuck in physically on occasion and they were a bit unfortunate not to at least get a draw.

They failed because of messing around, possibly caused by pressure and panic in the closing ten minutes when they had several chances to snatch vital points after sub Michael Argue scored a brilliant goal in the 18th minute to level the score and Cian Mackey added point to put Cavan ahead.

In the exciting final minutes of a half that lasted 39 minutes, Cavan had several chances to fist a point to draw but messed them all up and Derry were deserving winners, leaving Cavan in a precarious position with an away game against Meath next up.

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