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Pressure to win makes virtue out of negativity

ON the opening weekend of the National Football League, I was once again dismayed to observe how many forwards are losing their natural ability because the function of the forward has changed so much. And for the worse too.

A half-forward's role is no longer just about getting scores. He is now expected to go back and help his team-mates in defence, track back after his own marker and then, after all that work is done, he is expected to get on the scoresheet.

Nowadays in the dressing room after the game the scoresheet is the last thing that a forward is examined on. Instead when the manager goes in search of the match stats he will first and foremost ask how many breaks the half-forwards got. It's all about the breaks.

And with modern wing-backs preferring to go all out on the attack, wing-forwards are spending a lot of time facing their own goals, meaning they are out of position and their natural scoring instinct is being diminished.

Towards the end of his days Pat Spillane could often be found coming back into the half back line, not to help us out because we didn't need it, but to get on the ball.

Brian Dooher is the perfect example of a player who hasn't fallen victim to this unwelcome trend. He has shown over the last decade that he is well able to meet all the requirements of a modern day wing-forward. He can get up and down the field, drop back when needed and still manage to get a few scores. In the majority of the cases you just have lads dropping back as extra defenders and that's all that they do.

Back in 1997 when I was in charge of Kerry and we won the League and the All-Ireland, we had two wing forwards Pa Laide and Denis O'Dwyer who were great at covering back but they were aware of the importance of supporting the inside line, taking the ball at pace and getting scores.

The game used to be played 15 on 15 but those days are over. Dublin came close to winning the All-Ireland last year with just one forward; whenever the chance arose, they dropped as many as they could behind the ball.

However if Dublin are to advance they have to find other players besides the Brogan Brothers who can score. If I look back over the Kerry team of the last ten years we always had a fair share of lads who were good for two or three points a match. Colm Cooper, Kieran Donaghy and Declan O'Sullivan are all well capable of kicking the ball over the bar from 35 or 40 yards out.

In the early stages of his career O'Sullivan spent too much time tracking back but last year he proved how invaluable he was as a scoring forward, especially in the Limerick game. The two points he got after John Galvin's goal were heart breaking for the opposition. It's a sin to have the likes of him too far away from the posts.

If a team can finish a game with 14 or 15 points then that will almost always guarantee a victory and if you have six natural forwards who can amass that total then you won't need to bother with a blanket defence.

Sunday Indo Sport