Saturday 25 January 2020

Joe Brolly: Goals, dummies and the Half Mulligan - it's the skills that turn on our inner light

Having left Stephen O’Shaughnessy stranded, Tyrone’s Owen Mulligan puts the ball past Dublin keeper Stephen Cluxton for his side’s second goal in the 2005 All-Ireland quarter-final replay. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Having left Stephen O’Shaughnessy stranded, Tyrone’s Owen Mulligan puts the ball past Dublin keeper Stephen Cluxton for his side’s second goal in the 2005 All-Ireland quarter-final replay. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Joe Brolly

Joe Brolly

On Monday night, the under 16s were a man short for their training game, so I togged out and did the needful. We were working on the nuances of scoring goals, positional sense, creating space, long kicking, drawing markers away and the four primary dummies. These are, of course, The Colm McFadden, The Bernie Flynn, The Half Mulligan and The Full Mulligan.

1. The Half Mulligan is the quick glance beyond the shoulder of the defender to the imaginary forward, accompanied by a speedy swivel of the head and an accentuated lean of either the left or right shoulder depending on which foot you want to finish with.

2. The Full Mulligan is the Half Mulligan, followed by a pretend hand-pass where the striking hand simulates a hand-pass. A great example is Owen's immortal and hilarious goal against the Dubs in the 2005 quarter-final, where he performs the Full Mulligan not once, but twice. Eat my shorts, Hill 16!

3. The Bernie Flynn is an indispensable tool for any serious forward. It is most effective when a hand-pass is given across the square to the forward on the opposite side of the square. If it comes to him on the right hand post, he takes possession, then swings the ball in both hands to his right (as though going to plant it in the near post with his right), before stepping inside on his left and placing it firmly in the net as the keeper and covering defenders scramble across to their left. And vice versa.

Happily, there are two classic examples of Bernie performing his eponymous dummy in the 1994 National League Final between Meath and Armagh. Watch and learn at YouTube - Meath v Armagh 1994 NFL Final highlights. A thing of beauty is a joy forever. I studied and loved that dummy as a player. Once learned, it is virtually foolproof.

4. The Colm McFadden is a subtle and quite brilliant variation on the Flynn, used only when very close to goal. The attacker shows the ball to the left side with the upturned palm of the hand, before pulling it back in, leaning again to the left side, then stepping to the right and firing home. Or vice versa. Colm used it throughout his career. A vivid recent example is his goal in the second half of the 2014 semi-final against Dublin, where he left Mick Fitzsimons and Stephen Cluxton watching for the dove to be produced from the cloth. There are other dummies, but these are only for the most highly-skilled footballers in the land. Take for example The Peter Canavan - which still confuses me and cannot, in practice, be taught in the same way that a great actor cannot be copied. Or The Dermot Dougan (ex-Derry and Newbridge), who patented what became known as 'The Doogie Boogie', a bewildering shuffle that left many a defender on his arse. In the 1998 Ulster semi-final against Armagh, the great Kieran McGeeney was 'Boogied' twice, Dougan taking him for two goals, leaving the Armagh captain wondering what the hell had just happened.

Or The Gooch, where the player looks as though he is about to drop the ball on to his foot to kick it, only to shift his body weight, bounce it back to himself in the opposite direction, then kick with the other foot. None of these should be tried at home. Even with parental supervision. Injuries are sure to follow.

What I have noticed watching football over the last five years is that in many counties the trickery has slowly but surely been disappearing from the game. As football has become a series of set-plays, and task has replaced initiative, power and speed have become the game's most prized assets. It is a big mistake, because this trickery and sleight of hand cannot only unlock a game, but also help to educate our young players in the mysteries and joy of Gaelic football.

I noticed when Corofin were on their All-Ireland run a few years ago that their warm-ups were all about scoring goals. Three v two, two v one, three v one, three v three. It was obviously something they had done night-in, night-out in training. So, on game day, it was pure enjoyment to watch their inch-perfect passing, dummying, off-the-ball running and finishing in the warm-up. In their comprehensive semi-final defeat of the hot favourites St Vincents and their walloping of Slaughtneil in the final, they showed us how football can be played if we really immerse ourselves in the skills and subtleties.

For me, this starts with goal-scoring, because creating and finishing goals requires an education in the finer points of the game: movement on and off the ball; anticipating the second pass, not the first; accurate kick-passing; playing with your head up; good close control; and drawing defenders away from the D. Most of all, it creates chemistry and the great bonus is the huge enjoyment players get from this sort of coaching.

Often during the warm-up, Corofin players were smiling or laughing as someone lobbed the keeper or feinted to pass one way then gave it the other for a simple palmed goal on the far post.

We take this approach in our underage club sessions. We don't train much, a maximum of twice a week. Following a brilliant talk from the renowned Tyrone physiotherapist Marty Loughran, we have a 'two-clear rest days' rule and no double sessions. We worried we weren't doing enough but, as it turns out, the kids have blossomed. They are fresh and enthusiastic and when they come to us, they enjoy it. The biggest thing for the adults is that the boys are getting such a kick from the journey.

We have no Gooches or Peter Canavans, but they have already mastered the Half Mulligan and the Bernie Flynn - and are well on the way to achieving the Full Mulligan and the Colm McFadden. It will be a proud day indeed for their parents when they achieve their Diploma in Dummying, presented by Owen Mulligan PHD (Professor of Higher Dummying).

I watched Henry Shefflin's excellent documentary on RTE the other night and was intrigued by some of the statistics. For example, we were told that Oscar winners, on average, live four years longer than Oscar nominees. The psychologist suggested this was because winning gave them a sense of self-esteem that increased their well-being and health. In essence, there was a benign chemical reaction in their bodies from succeeding, compared to those who didn't, so they lived longer.

However, all is not that simple. An eminent international expert closed the documentary by concluding that it wasn't winning that created this feeling. He said it was about absorbing yourself fully in something that was - for you - a release and a pleasure. He called it "turning the light on inside yourself", and noted similar effects on people whether their joy was painting, sport or gardening.

Funny thing is Henry said exactly the same thing. He described how, in his early career, he thought winning cups was the only thing that mattered and how, on occasion, he worried so much about big games he wouldn't get out of bed at all the day before. For him, the penny dropped in his mid-20s that the real joy came from absorbing himself in the game and all its skills. Once that light was turned on inside himself, he relaxed and the rest just flowed.

On Tuesday morning after the training match with the under 16s, I tottered painfully into the Crown Court in Belfast like an arthritic donkey. These young boys nowadays are flying machines and as strong as bulls. But that 60-minute game on Monday night was pure pleasure for me. Lobbing the keeper, being tackled and knocked on my arse by my own son, giving a one-two, the feel of the ball as it comes off your foot. For me, this has always been the inner light. I hope it is the same for the boys.

As for Henry, he will live till he's 150.

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