Tuesday 21 November 2017

Attacking model

Colm Keys

Colm Keys

It may be too early in the season to roll out such a statistic, but it's sitting up waiting for an airing.

The Wexford football team have found themselves in good company so far this season. Actually, it's the best of company.

Only two counties have scored more on average and have scored more cumulatively than them in the 2011 championship. And those two counties happen to be the two best around.

Cork's route to the Munster football final has been a veritable turkey shoot as they ran up 1-23 and 5-17, respectively, in dispatching Clare and Waterford. Kerry's passage has been just as straightforward with 3-42 accumulated against Tipperary and Limerick.

In their slipstream are Wexford, who have defied all expectations with the manner of their progress to the Leinster SFC semi-final tomorrow. With fast, exciting football their mission, Wexford have reduced the defences of Offaly and Westmeath to rubble over two weekends in Leinster so far. Carlow are well warned.

The 2-16 against Offaly was eye catching but the 1-24 the last day in Wexford Park was an exhibition of intuitive forward play and intelligent use of space.

Life after Matty Forde clearly isn't so bad after all!

Matty Forde. He remains the county's only football All Star and for the best part of the decade he was one of the foremost attackers in the country. He stirred a minor revolution for the game in the county.

From a distance Wexford, though, carried the perception of a one-man team on the back of Matty. Within Wexford, Matty became the central exchange. It happened around him or it didn't happen at all.

But in recent years, Matty's back has pinched away at him and last winter he was forced to declare his hand for good. Wexford, you thought, would suffer for his absence.

That impression lasted during the league and defeats to Tipperary and Limerick in its last two rounds spoiled a good campaign, as promotion was missed, on score difference, once again.

But from the end of the league to the first round of the championship, Wexford have honed a system that draws clear lines of distinction between the craftsmen and labourers of the attack.

Ciaran Lyng, Ben Brosnan and Redmond Barry have between them picked off 2-33 of Wexford's 3-40 total, or nearly 80pc.

Brosnan has knocked over 14 points in the two games, nine from frees or '45s', Barry chipped in with 1-3 the last day while Lyng has topped everyone with 1-16, a mere seven points from frees.

Offaly manager Tom Cribbin is convinced that if greater attention is paid to the other three forwards then those statistics could be greatly reduced.

Eric Bradley, a former midfielder, wears the No 14 shirt on his back but drifts out as an auxiliary in his old position. Colm Morris, a former corner-back, takes up even deeper positions in front of his defence while Shane Roche floats closer to the wings.

"The likes of Colm Morris and Eric Bradley are so good in possession, so well able to pick out passes," says Cribbin. "The lads inside will get the scores, but it's the space created by the others than did the damage against us. If you can get on top of them you can really impact on the other lads.

"We just didn't see it coming. The way they played surprised us."

It also surprised Ger Halligan, Wexford's former manager, who felt after the league that difficult times were ahead.

"You just didn't know what to expect after the way the last two league games went," says Halligan. "But they have been a joy to watch."

Halligan admits that maybe Forde's absence has "liberated" others and forced them to take on more responsibility themselves.

"I would have always felt Ciaran Lyng was doing that anyway. He's a superb talent," he says.

"Red Barry is a real creative player. He likes to take an opponent on and he'll always make the right pass.

"Ben Brosnan is a surprise this season. He's been around for a while, but has shown the electrifying form only in patches. This season he has been a revelation.

"With Matty around, there would always have been a tendency to put everything through him, but clearly there are other avenues now."

Cribbin sees the system, more than the individuals, as the driver of Wexford's new-found liberation.

"They have found a way to play that suits their talents," Cribbin says. "Barry and Lyng will stay inside, Brosnan will sit out in front of them with Roche, the other two will come deeper. It's almost a 2-2-2 system they are using and it's working."

Cribbin also sees the long-range free-taking of Brosnan and Lyng as a serious advantage.

"They can both step up to frees 45 metres out and longer and put them over with left and right. There aren't many teams that have that luxury."

Wexford's scoring streak masks over deficiencies at the other end that were glaringly exposed in the Westmeath game.

Still, they can continue to draw sufficient oxygen from their front men to carry them to another day in Leinster and put the Forde era clearly in the rear-view mirror.

In an interview after the Westmeath game, it was Lyng who touched on the Forde factor and underlined how the team felt they had to move on from the team that was built around their All Star. Even in the wake of Offaly, they were still being quizzed about the impact of his absence.

Now, it seems, they have moved on.

Irish Independent

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