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Galway to follow the Sammon blueprint

WHEN Liam Sammon came to write his second book on Gaelic football coaching, he had no idea that every theory, conviction and philosophy which spring from the 132 pages would face the most forensic examinations at the highest level inside a very short space of time.

Sammon retired from his teaching job in St Mary's College, Galway last year and decided to use some spare time by compiling a second coaching manual as a follow-up to his 2003 production. It was the ultimate labour of love for a man who has been coaching football for more than 40 years, beginning very soon after he made his debut with Galway as a 19 year-old on the All-Ireland three-in-a-row team in 1966.

However, things changed dramatically since he began work on his latest book 'Optimising Performance in Gaelic Football,' which is designed as an aid for coaches at all levels. Last autumn, Sammon was appointed as Galway football manager in succession to Peter Ford, a job described by none other than Mick O'Dwyer, a man with a keen insight into the subtleties of counties and their footballers, as third in line behind Kerry and Dublin in terms of attractiveness.

Philosophy

Now, Sammon's philosophy is no longer mere theory on a page. Instead, it has become a blueprint for the direction Galway will take over the next few years as they attempt to regain status after losing serious market value in recent seasons. No doubt, all of the managers whose teams are due to face Galway will happily part with €15 (they will also be helping charity) to probe Sammon's way of thinking.

He smiles at the prospect, but points out that decoding Galway's plans won't simply be a matter of reading his book and plotting counter strategies.

"We'll have a fair bit up our sleeves. Core philosophies are one thing but there are all sorts of variations which can be applied to them. The book certainly isn't a catalogue of Galway tactics for the year ahead," he said.

Nevertheless, there are clear pointers as to the direction in which he will try to take things and frankly, it's one which will not only please Galway supporters but also those who favour an expansive game.

O'Dwyer identified Galway's "natural rhythm and attractive brand of open football over many years" as the reason for his interest in coaching them, although over the past few seasons there was little evidence of those traits. Whether that was down to Peter Ford's coaching, a gradual shift by the players themselves or simply a sign of an unfortunate evolution is unclear but, whatever the background, Galway's approach was harder and meaner. It didn't go unnoticed either. "Galway just wanted to stop us. I hate teams like that because that's not Gaelic football and it's not even the spirit of Gaelic football," complained Mayo coach John Morrison after losing the 2006 League semi-final.

Ultimately, of course, teams are judged on results and Galway's dreadful championship displays against Westmeath in 2006 and Sligo last year left the supporters in a state of bewilderment.

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When Ford departed, Galway had a big decision to make. Would they continue with the outside manager policy which they had deployed since late 1997 or would they look to their own again? A review of local talent identified Sammon as an interesting contender. A lifetime in coaching at club, college, county and international (he was with the Irish International Rules team in 1984-86) level has left him with such a vast reservoir of experience that it seemed ridiculous to waste it. He had been involved as coach with Galway when Bosco McDermott was coach in the mid-nineties when their best season saw them win a Connacht title win in 1995, followed by a narrow All-Ireland semi-final defeat by Tyrone.

Glory days followed, but they passed as they inevitably do and now Galway are a tier below the top strata which makes Sammon's job hugely challenging.

"Galway have slipped a bit okay but we're not that far away either. We still have some great talent in the county which we must harness that to the very best effect," he said.

If Galway supporters had grown disillusioned with the style of play they have seen in recent years, they will be encouraged by Sammon's intent to put the foot back into football rather than heading down the handpassing route. One of the central tenets of his coaching manual is use of the boot, not because he believes it suits Galway specifically but because he regards it as central to the game. "Ensuring that we have much more accurate kicking is essential to improving the standard of our games," he said.

Taking on a first senior county managerial job at the age of 61 is unusual in GAA circles but it's not as if Sammon has been away from football. Indeed, it's difficult to think of anybody who has been more immersed in the game, much of it with St Mary's and as coach to the youngsters in Salthill/Knocknacarra where he did so much to build up the club.

Now, he's about to sit for the biggest test of his coaching career as he attempts to re-ignite Galway's fire.

He will be under a bigger spotlight than ever before, but he says he's ready for it. He got an early taste of the pressures ahead as manager of a high-profile county when word swept through Galway a few months ago that he was wasn't planning to use Padraic Joyce as anything other than a fringe player this year.

It wasn't true, of course, but it took weeks for the rumours to die down, although anybody who knows how much emphasis Sammon places on accurate finishing and distribution must have realised that he wasn't going to under-utilise one of the best kickers in the game.

It will be interesting to see how Galway reacts to his new regime.

There's a lot of work to do but we're starting from a decent base," said Sammon. The next six or seven months will tell whether that base is strong enough to survive the pressures in a very competitive football world.

l Liam Sammon's book 'Optimising Performance In Gaelic Football' will be launched in the Clayton Hotel, Galway on Monday night. It will be available through Elverys Sports Stores and proceeds will go to the Physically Challenged Irish and American Youth Team charity.


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