Sunday 24 September 2017

Slavery to systems makes it easy to avoid personal responsibility

Evan Sheehan of Cork in action against Aidan McCarthy of Clare during the Electric Ireland Munster GAA Hurling Minor Championship Final. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Evan Sheehan of Cork in action against Aidan McCarthy of Clare during the Electric Ireland Munster GAA Hurling Minor Championship Final. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Cyril Farrell

Heading into the 1988 All-Ireland final against Tipperary, Galway had a problem. It wasn't of our own making but it was there nonetheless and had to be solved if we were to give ourselves a decent chance of retaining the title.

Its name? Nicky English. He had been tormenting defences for a long time and was going particularly well that year. We kept hearing that if he was let loose on Conor Hayes, the scoreboard wouldn't make pretty reading for Galway.

Hayes, apparently, was too slow, too awkward and just not good enough to cope with what was coming his way. Hayes, being Hayes, took it all in his giant stride.

Solution

It would be easier to unnerve a steel girder than our full-back and captain. He had the attitude that where there was a problem, there was a solution. Just go and find it. And then make it work.

And so he did. But then he understood the art of good defending, an instinctive know-how that can't be taught. He also had the brain power to figure out things, making decisions as he went.

He curbed the English threat in that final, which was probably the difference between winning and losing for us. Yes, his colleagues grafted hard to cut off the supply lines but, ultimately the contest was man-on-man, Hayes v English.

I often think of that when watching games nowadays, including last Sunday's Munster final. Clare were all about shapes and systems and patterns, whereas Cork hurled far more instinctively.

They trusted themselves as individuals, got on with their game and won. Yes, they worked on Clare's strong points but then teams have always done that.

However, the balance in the modern game is leaning too much towards planning to counteract the opposition rather than in trying to set your own agenda.

Shapes and systems are fine but they should not dictate everything. If it's all about the structure, individual responsibility becomes diluted.

When a team loses, it can be put down to a systems failure rather than individual shortcomings. Everybody is to blame so nobody is to blame. Collective responsibility is good but much of the game still revolves around individual contests. Or at least it should.

I was surprised by how Clare set up last Sunday. In fact, if they had done it under Davy Fitzgerald, he would have been savaged, as indeed he often was over the last few years. Even winning an All-Ireland wasn't enough to save him.

Some of the players grumbled about things in his last year so what have they to say about last Sunday? Time perhaps to start taking personal responsibility?

Small things matter and I can't understand why, having won the toss, Clare opted to play against the breeze. It wasn't very strong but it was still a little advantage, so why didn't they take it in the first-half?

Instead, they handed the initiative to Cork, which is never a good idea. I thought Clare did it in the way they played Colm Galvin so deep. He's a good man to pop a few points from around midfield but he was further back this time.

Hold

Clare seemed to be set up to hold Cork, presumably in the belief that if they managed that, they would press on and win. But where was their strategy to make things happen that would control the game?

They didn't push up on Anthony Nash's puck-outs, allowing him to find one of his full-backs - usually Damien Cahalane - who could look up and pick a pass.

You can't give the goalkeeper easy options, so if you're playing a sweeper system what's wrong with abandoning it for puck-outs and re-setting once the ball is in play?

Cork did most of the genuine attacking hurling. They set the agenda, as if saying to Clare: 'here's what we're doing, now what have you got?' At it happened, Clare didn't have a whole lot.

Cork's style is good to watch and, more importantly for them, it's very effective. They got swept along by the sweeper trend last year, trying it out against Tipperary in the Munster championship. It backfired horribly and they haven't used it since.

Instead, they have gone back to a more traditional approach, one that's based on their strengths. In fairness, they have a lot more of those this year, especially in defence where Colm Spillane and Mark Coleman have been excellent on the left side.

Cork's rate of improvement is one of the stories of the championship and with the minors and U-21s going so well too, there's a buoyant mood on Leeside.

Is Frank Murphy to get some of the credit now, seeing that his critics were more than happy to blame him when things weren't going well over the past two years? People can't have it every way.

Despite Clare's disappointing performance, I wouldn't write them off against Tipperary next Saturday, provided they adopt a more progressive approach.

They tried the containing game against Cork and it didn't work, no more than it will against Tipperary. I would expect to see Cian Dillon, who came on as a sub last Sunday, starting in the full-back line this time with David McInerney moving out to the half-back line.

It would be a sign of a more positive approach as McInerney likes to get forward. Leave Galvin in a more advanced position and I'd go with David Reidy too.

There are no safety nets now for Clare, or any of the other contenders, so where's the point of being cautious? It's time to fire all guns and see what damage they do.

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