Thursday 18 July 2019

Colm O'Rourke: 'Tyrone setback won't force a rethink of Galway's game-plan'

Perhaps Kevin Walsh is right to stick to a defensive format. Photo: Sportsfile
Perhaps Kevin Walsh is right to stick to a defensive format. Photo: Sportsfile
Colm O'Rourke

Colm O'Rourke

There is a bit of a debate at the moment about tactics and players and which should shape the other. Before last week I thought Tyrone were not using their key players to full effect when they persisted with a system which employed a small man up front and a hand-passing game from back to front. It meant defensive stability and very little kicking.

The feeling was that this system worked to a point, but would never win the All-Ireland. So, when Tyrone changed their system and it started to work well in the latter stages of the League it looked as if talented players had been liberated from a straitjacket and that they were now serious contenders.

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All of this is now rubble after what Donegal did to them. In the wake of last weekend's defeat, Tyrone might be tempted to ditch the kicking game and go back to their old methods. That would be a mistake. The system did not beat them, but a collective inability to match a more skilful, mobile team. Donegal, who are a very good team, have size too and good big men are still better than good little men. If you can mix it up then it is even better and Donegal have both.

Now Galway face the same dilemma as Tyrone. But it is unlikely that western leopards will change their spots. Kevin Walsh has stuck rigidly with a defensive formation and he is not for turning. The forwards will be defenders first, and then they will be expected to race up and score. In this system, defenders can get up to the front line as they know there is always half a dozen to cover for them. But it is not pretty. Galway people, who have been reared on a diet of great attackers, find this system of play a complete turn off. Some of those great forwards even played with Kevin Walsh, but it appears Ja Fallon, Michael Donnellan or Pádraic Joyce did not leave an imprint of flair on his soul.

Perhaps Walsh is right. Maybe the Galway defence would be cut asunder if it lined out in conventional format. Indeed, I think they probably would, but there is a balance to be struck. If you convince defenders they can't defend man-on-man then it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. They will believe they cannot cope and will act accordingly. It is something I have been arguing for a while because it comes back to the fact that in many cases defenders are not being taught, or maybe they are unwilling to learn, the art of defending.

A good corner back is a man who will sacrifice his game just to keep a forward out of the match, but there will be no soloing up-field or getting in for a point. That job is left to others. There are few of that breed around now, and the closest Galway have is Eoghan Kerin, although he is a bit rash so fouls too much and is always close to a second yellow card.

Galway depend on a sort of zonal defending where each player knows it is usually not life or death if a man gets by him. It does not breed individual responsibility.

Today's Connacht final is for the best of three. Roscommon won easily two years ago in Salthill while Galway did likewise in Roscommon last year when Shane Walsh gave an exhibition of forward play.

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Pearse Stadium is perched above the Atlantic and is nearly always buffeted by wind and rain which often turns matches into wars of attrition. Perhaps they could have turned the pitch around so the wind does not always seem to be blowing straight down-field. Better still it should have been put somewhere else, in the Mediterranean part on the east of the city.

Roscommon travel west on a high. They bearded the lion in his own lair in Castlebar and celebrated like they had won an All-Ireland - the way it should be. Wins should always be celebrated. To hell with the next match. A successful day should be enjoyed.

Roscommon bear witness to Mark Twain's assertion that there are lies, damned lies and statistics. Twain attributed this saying to British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli and years later it still holds true. We live in an era of sport which is dominated by stats - everyone uses them and there are armies of people who run round after teams supplying them. I am not claiming they are useless and have used them with different teams myself, but if it comes to a point where you are standing on the line and can't see who is doing or not doing the business, then you should not be there.

If you were using the stats from the Mayo v Roscommon game then the wonder is how Mayo lost as they were ahead on possession, scoring chances, opposition kick-outs won and so on. Yet they lost. The only statistic that counts is the scoreboard at the long whistle. That is why Roscommon are playing in the Connacht final today and Mayo are hitching up in Newry next Saturday to play Down. Not an easy game either.

Anyway, Roscommon will attempt to impose a carbon copy of the Castlebar win today. Pack the defence, break out quick and kick long to the inside forwards. With Ultan Harney missing inside, Roscommon are a lesser force. Harney puts himself about a bit. He is an old-fashioned type of player who gives as much as he gets and he takes a bit of stopping, even if he sails close to the wind on occasions as far as discipline is concerned.

Every team needs someone like him and even though the Roscommon subs made a big impact against Mayo, they are not going to be as potent today. The best forward in Castlebar was Conor Cox, but he will find himself heavily marked so Cathal Cregg needs a big and consistent game.

Galway have been warned, but their game plan won't change anyway, whether it is London, Roscommon or Dublin they are playing. They will invite Roscommon on to them and hope to break at pace with all the backs given a license to hurtle forward. With Damian Comer missing they have less of an outlet for long ball so it looks like more laborious hand-passing I'm afraid.

Galway need to get Ian Burke on the ball. He is unselfish and has quick hands while Walsh is the real destroyer. However, his good work outfield is often destroyed by poor finishing. Today he should just go for goals and forget about points.

Apart from a Connacht title which is, of course, a big prize in itself, there is the automatic route to the Super 8. It was not a series which did anything for Roscommon last year or Galway either. All it showed was that Connacht was competitive but at a lower level than the top three or four teams. It probably will not be much different this year.

That will not stop this being a great struggle with everyone giving every ounce of their manhood. Galway in my view are a much better team but it looks as if my hopes for them being All-Ireland contenders over these few years have been misplaced. If they are not at or near their best, Roscommon will do a Mayo on them. Under Anthony Cunningham, Roscommon will get the maximum and then a bit more from their resources. But it has to be a Galway win for me.

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