Saturday 25 November 2017

Defensive tactics risk ruining game -- Dubs legend Hanahoe

Colm Keys

Colm Keys

Dublin legend of the 1970s, Tony Hanahoe has compared modern-day Gaelic football to the worst excesses of Italian soccer and warns of a "long-term damaging effect" on the game.

Hanahoe, Dublin's player-manager when they last beat Kerry in a championship match, the 1977 All-Ireland semi-final, has also suggested that the Kerry and Dublin teams of that era "could be put in there against anything you have there today".

"The game is taking an adverse turn as far as I'm concerned if we are moving towards a negative defensive Italian soccer-style game," said Hanahoe, speaking in advance of Sunday's All-Ireland final.

"I wouldn't have any interest in it. I think its negativity might have a long-term damaging effect on the game. As for the game itself, I still think there is a huge amount to be gained from the long accurate ball, that is effective and gives you a higher percentage of opportunities to score than this laborious handpassing, slow build-up.

"I'm not in favour of it. I think defence has its purpose, midfield play has its interesting aspects and I think forward play is what wins games. That's just my opinion."

Statistics comparing the trends between the 1976 All-Ireland final between Dublin and Kerry and the Leinster and Munster football finals this year make interesting reading.

Not surprisingly, the number of handpasses in both provincial finals, which involved Dublin and Kerry, has increased substantially.

According to figures supplied by Vodafone, Dublin used 2.3 times more handpasses against Wexford than they did against Kerry in '76 while Kerry's increase against Cork was 2.1 times the quantity used in '76. And the number of long kicks in excess of 25 metres has also decreased by some 84pc, down from 115 in 1976 to just 20 in both provincial finals in July.

But the number of long-range point attempts has made a significant jump across the eras. In the '76 final, there were 15 shots for scores from outside the 20-metre line by comparison to 29 in this year's Leinster final.

Solo running is also experiencing a downward curve according to these game comparisons. Dublin players carried 64 times in '76 but embarked on just 36 runs in July against Wexford, a decrease of 44pc.

Hanahoe has acknowledged the relevancy of these statistics, which point to teams playing in a more structured fashion, but he is adamant natural flair should take precedence.

"I don't think you can ever, in any sport, reach a stage where you eradicate the flair from anybody, whether it's racing, football, or boxing," said Hanahoe. "There's a certain amount of discipline that has to be maintained in a team game. I don't think any manager or management team that are wise would exclude natural flair, because that's sometimes the difference between the two teams.

That said, what has impressed Hanahoe most about current Dublin manager Pat Gilroy -- his St Vincent's club colleague -- is the way he has instilled greater discipline and team ethic in the current players.

"He has eradicated some of the initial problems he inherited. He has brought a certain discipline into the group. It must be remembered that no player is bigger than the group, so you have to work on that basis that people are prepared to take instruction and are prepared to play in the overall plan of things that is best suited to the team. That can vary from day to day and it is a managerial call," said Hanahoe.

"At least as a manager, you would expect that people would respond to what the instructions are for the day. He has put himself in a position with his colleagues that they have that kind of respect and I think the results are beginning to show for it.

"I'm not going to go down that road of criticising anybody for what happened before. There are always problems. I think Gilroy has shown that he has brought a certain firmness into the group and that he has more than indicated with his colleagues that he is not prepared to tolerate any lack , or lapse, of concentration or disciplinary matters."

Hanahoe sees Dublin as a young team that hasn't yet reached maturity, but that could come as soon as Sunday, a result he says must be viewed as good for the GAA.

Irish Independent

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