Tuesday 23 October 2018

Tribesmen left powerless as their factory football malfunctions

Lack of imagination comes back to haunt Galway

Galway manager Kevin Walsh. Photo: Sportsfile
Galway manager Kevin Walsh. Photo: Sportsfile

Joe Brolly

I've been saying all year that Galway are a mirage. A dull regime and a dull system of play inevitably create a dull team. As predicted, they were entirely predictable, and Monaghan made short work of them.

Galway play factory football. It is too rehearsed, too defensive and requires no imagination. Which is why they play so unimaginatively. Their first creative score came in the 29th minute of the game, Gary O'Donnell kicking a nice point from an Ian Burke assist to bring their tally to 0-4. That was as good as it got. It was all very cringeworthy for the big Galway crowd.

Galway's rigmarole was just as it always is. They went into their 1-13-1 formation from the throw-in. They do not tackle or engage with the opposition until they come inside the 45, so as Monaghan built their lead, they were able to hold possession at their leisure. Kevin Walsh must have forgotten to tell his team they had a big wind at their backs in the first half, because they dropped off inside their 45 and Monaghan were able to run the clock down under no pressure. This exemplified the problem with such a rigid system. It means that the team cannot adapt to circumstances as they unfold. They are stuck with the system and when it isn't working, they might as well head for the changing room.

Monaghan had no problems with them whatsoever and the eight-point drubbing could have been worse.

Let us start with how Monaghan dealt with Galway's static zonal defence. Galway string a first line of six players across the field inside the 45. They shuffle left and right, pointing. Inside that six, Galway play three sweepers in the central column.

Monaghan negated the zone entirely. Firstly, they put two and sometimes three men inside the Galway zone in the central column to occupy those sweepers. Then, they used the full width of the pitch, moving the ball quickly from left to right, with Vinnie Corey steaming through the zone on the left flank and Karl O'Connell doing the same on the right. When they had moved Galway's sweepers about a little, they were able to find the runner cutting through the gap created. The zone was broken and it was a matter of taking the opportunity.

Defensively, Monaghan were entirely at their ease. They played very tough championship tempo football, but that is a prerequisite in an All-Ireland quarter-final. Damien Comer was again isolated and alone. Shane Walsh laboured anonymously in the blanket defence, then soloed through from the Galway 45 to the Monaghan 45 before laying the ball off. This is called turning a silk purse into a sow's ear.

Galway - in contrast to Monaghan - moved the ball forward slowly, hand-passing backwards and sideways. With Monaghan tackling them hard, they went nowhere. By half-time, they had five points and with Monaghan coming back out to play with the gale, the writing was on the wall.

In these circumstances, a team would generally speaking want to have a go. But factory football doesn't permit this. So, Galway shuffled back into their zonal defence, pointing and shuffling left and right as Monaghan went further and further ahead. In the 57th minute, at 0-14 to 0-8 behind, Galway had 13 men inside their own 45. Go figure.

Then, as is inevitable in these situations (Ryan McMenamin did the same thing in the 63rd minute of the Ulster final and the 65th minute v Kildare), Walsh came out onto the field and roared at his team "push up, push up".

Only they didn't know how to and the last ten minutes therefore became a Galway meltdown. Given the robotic nature of the system, perhaps malfunction is a better word, with good players powerless to do anything other than suffer.

This is where this sort of system ends. Fermanagh experienced it. Carlow the same. The system prevents teams from performing in broken play, meaning that they cannot adapt when they must. Hence, the appearance of the panic-stricken coach shouting 'push up'. You can be sure that Jim Gavin will not need to run onto the field next Saturday to urge his men to push up.

It was a great day for Monaghan. My cousin Vinnie is still motoring beautifully. Conor McManus was his usual self, accepting responsibility without hesitation. Ryan McAnespie was spiky and terrific, exemplifying their defiance. As for Rory Beggan, if Monaghan were delivering their kick-outs by drones they couldn't be more accurate. The pitch invasion at the end capped a great day for them.

Some years ago, I did a night for the Clontibret club. They produced an old photo of McManus sitting on my knee in 1993 beside the Sam Maguire. On stage, I said that was the closest he would ever get to it. They are in a semi-final now. I would love to eat my words.

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