Thursday 16 August 2018

How gamekeepers are turning poachers - Spread of scorers among top teams rising all the time

Drew Wylie hasn't just been preventing scores this season
Drew Wylie hasn't just been preventing scores this season
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

When Dublin beat Tyrone in the 1995 All-Ireland final, the Ulster champions' list of scorers featured just two names accounting for their 12 points.

Peter Canavan scored 11, chiefly from frees, while midfielder Jody Gormley was the only other contributor.

It wasn't uncommon for the responsibility to rest with so few. When Meath drew an All-Ireland final with Cork seven years earlier, they too had just two scorers: Brian Stafford and Colm O'Rourke.

Maurice Fitzgerald's tour de force in the 1997 All-Ireland final against Mayo yielded nine points, with just three more players - Darragh Ó Sé, Pa Laide and John Crowley - on the mark.

Such numbers aren't impossible in the game today but, with more added time, more substitutions and greater staying power, it is rare for the burden not be shared much more evenly.

Widened

This year, it appears, the source of scores has widened, with some unexpected names figuring on the scoresheets.

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Among the eight teams that have made it to this year's inaugural All-Ireland quarter-final series, the average number of scorers per game in this year's championship is nine or above for five of them - Tyrone, Monaghan, Donegal, Galway and Dublin.

Monaghan, Tyrone, Galway and Donegal have all had 20 scorers, with Kildare just behind on 19. It has led to a few eye-catching developments with renowned gamekeepers turning poachers on occasion.

Declan Kyne had never scored a championship point in four seasons under Kevin Walsh but, presented with the opportunity in the 57th minute of Galway's opening 'Super 8s' game against Kerry, the full-back obliged to put his team 0-10 to 0-8 clear.

Donegal's Paddy McGrath had a similar experience in the Ulster final against Fermanagh, surging forward for his first ever championship point in eight seasons to add to the goal he scored against Antrim last year.

Another card-carrying member of the no-nonsense gatekeeper union, Monaghan's Drew Wylie, has also been busy this season at the other end of the field, trebling his previous tally of one point against Kildare in a 2012 Croke Park qualifier with 0-1 and 0-2 against Tyrone and Fermanagh.

It's not exactly of shift-of-climate-change proportions but when such defenders with reputations for prevention rather than creation are scoring freely, then something different is at play as teams elect to push up on opponents setting up with a heavy defensive alignment.

The propensity for defenders to get in on the scoring act has been prevalent for some time. Seán Óg de Paor sealed Galway's 1998 All-Ireland success over Kildare with the second of his points that afternoon, while the Tyrone 2005 and 2008 All-Ireland-winning teams were among the most flexible - with Davy Harte, Ryan McMenamin, Philip Jordan and Conor Gormley regular contributors in those campaigns.

James Horan's Mayo took it to another level from 2012 to 2014 while Donegal under Jim McGuinness brought a much better developed counter-attacking game that saw Frank McGlynn, Karl Lacey, their sweeper Mark McHugh and Anthony Thompson regularly push up to finish moves.

But the well of scorers is deepening all the time. Monaghan have built a reputation for heavy defensive configuration but their list of 20 scorers in seven games so far this year is in contrast to that perception.

Every regular defenders has, at some stage of the campaign, scored.

Half-back Karl O'Connell leads the way with 1-7; Vinny Corey and Dessie Mone have been on the mark with 1-1 while other defenders - Drew (0-3) and Ryan Wylie, Colin Walshe (0-3), Conor Boyle, Dessie Ward and Kieran Duffy - have also contributed.

Donegal defenders have also been prolific. In addition to McGrath, all of Paul Brennan, Caolan Ward, Eoghan Ban Gallagher, Stephen McMenamin, McGlynn and Eamonn Doherty have scored, while Ryan McHugh has contributed 2-7 from his role.

Tyrone have a similarly even spread, statistics that again are at odds with their reputation as a team that is too guarded to mix it with the best.

Sometimes, identifying out-and-out defenders in their system can be challenging.

However, if we take it that Conor Meyler 'man-marks' more than Peter Harte, then only Cathal McCarron, now out for the season, from their established team has been among the 20 to find their range this season.

Eye-catching

Frank Burns has been most prolific, with nine points; Michael McKernan's 1-3 has also caught the eye while Ronan McNamee, Tiernan McCann, Rory Brennan and Meyler have also made contributions.

Mick O'Grady is the sole regular Kildare starter not to feature on a 2018 championship scoresheet, where Kevin Flynn's 0-5 has been most notable. Eoin Doyle, David Hyland, Peter Kelly and Johnny Byrne (twice each) and James Murray have all had shot success.

For Dublin, Brian Howard operates in that same fluid role that Harte and McHugh have perfected and that Galway's Johnny Heaney and Sean Kelly are now acclimatising to. Howard has hit a score in each of Dublin's five games, operating largely from half-back.

Heaney and Kelly are crucial to a Galway system that doesn't have an out-and-out focal point in attack as they illustrated against Kildare when 14 different players contributed 20 scores (1-19).

Roscommon have the smallest spread among the eight remaining teams which perhaps reflects their status at the back of the pack, with just 15 scorers at an average of just under seven scorers per game.

Irish Independent

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