Monday 5 December 2016

'I have to use my brain rather than my brawn'

Michael Verney

Published 21/07/2016 | 02:30

Brian Fox celebrates scoring Tipperary’s third goal in their shock win against Cork. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Brian Fox celebrates scoring Tipperary’s third goal in their shock win against Cork. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

It is often said in GAA circles that a good small man is good, but a good big man is better. For the pint-sized Brian Fox, however, it's all about playing to your strengths and using your stature to your advantage.

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A couple of inches shy of 6ft and just few sandwiches north of 12st, Fox, along with the likes of Ryan McHugh and Danny Cummins, is one of only a few exceptions to the growing trend of muscle-bound power players becoming commonplace in modern football.

Having a hand in Tipperary's three goals in their shock Munster semi-final win against Cork and scoring one, there was a common trend as the dynamic Éire Óg Annacarty forward used his searing pace to great effect.

While other more physically imposing players announce their intent with shoulders or crunching tackles, the 28-year-old prefers to use his head.

"It's easy for Aidan O'Shea to go through two or three tackles and then try and lay the ball off after sucking two or three defenders in by his sheer size whereas I can't do that at all and speed would probably be my most important asset," Fox says.

"I try to position myself so that I'm getting on the ball and not going directly into big crowds. I try and use my brain a bit more than my brawn. I don't have the size or strength to go through a lad and you've to be a lot cuter.

"You've to pick your times to make a run and take on a defender. You've to eye him up and think, 'Right am I one on one here? Can I take him on and look for an offload?'

"I would definitely say I'm trying to get a mismatch with a fella that would be poor on his feet or maybe a lot bigger than me and would foul me if I'm going low. I'm trying to come off the shoulder or take a lad on one-on-one and rely on my speed."

With Derry coming down the tracks in this weekend's Round 4A Qualifiers, a county he has never faced at any grade, Fox is once again braced for the blanket defence and the challenges posed by northern opposition having fallen heavily to Tyrone last summer.

"It's tough trying to break through. Physically, you have to braced for serious contact because you know you're going into physical areas. Any experience I have of northern teams is definitely more physical than teams in Munster and Leinster," he says.

"There's a lot more holding onto possession and handpassing, a very slow build-up but quite aggressive in terms of talking and all that kind of stuff. It's something that is definitely in their mentality or the way they set up any time I've ever played Ulster teams."

Spectators are growing increasingly disillusioned with championship fare this year and when watching games the PE and maths teacher, a nephew of Premier hurling legend Pat, feels their pain. Being on the pitch brings a completely different psyche however.

"Watching a blanket defence and games like the Ulster final can be grim enough but when you're in the game you don't see it like that. You see it as a challenge, 'How can I break this down?' And you relish that challenge," he says.

"At the end of the day it's a game of football you want to win so I've to think on my feet, work out in my head, 'How am I going to beat this? Can we go through the middle? Can we kick over it? Can we get players free on one side and kick from distance?'

"You've got options you can take and you have to see what will work best for you. It is very hard to enjoy any football game and I'm not having a go at any other counties but the drawn Galway and Roscommon game was so bad to watch. Both teams were actually afraid to go up to the defensive line.

Afraid

"The Ulster final was the same, they were so afraid of losing the ball. The Donegal boys were thinking, 'Well if we lose the ball inside their 45 they're going to break at pace and we have too many players up the pitch so let's just shoot from outside'. And that's why it makes for poor viewing."

Things didn't go to plan for Fox or Tipp in their loss to Kerry and while six-day turnarounds from provincial final defeats are strongly debated, Fox outlines the struggles which they have encountered in their three weeks off.

"It was tough, the week after we got beaten by Kerry fellas were low, we put a lot into it and it was hard to pick ourselves up off the ground for training and try and refocus when we didn't even know who we'd be playing in the next round," he says.

"It's hard to manage it. When you win matches you know what's working for you, you know what's going well and you don't have to change much for the next game whereas in the situation that you lose you're thinking about, 'What can we change?' But then it's hard to change when you don't know who you're playing."

With opponents now known, a quarter-final spot would be a major feather in the cap of Liam Kearns' side.

"We want to get to the last eight and show the progression we've made. Teams like ourselves know we're not going to win Sam Maguire, we're more realistic and set our goals at reaching a Munster final, trying to win a Munster final and then being in the last eight."

Irish Independent

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