Sunday 22 September 2019

Martin Breheny: Bin the tactics boards and go back to basics

Kieran McGeeney and Cian O’Neill, embracing after last year’s qualifier, have seen little return for all their detailed planning. Photo: INPHO
Kieran McGeeney and Cian O’Neill, embracing after last year’s qualifier, have seen little return for all their detailed planning. Photo: INPHO
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

Here's what Cian O'Neill said last Sunday after Carlow had beaten Kildare in the Leinster Championship for the first time in 65 years.

"Apart from game plans and video analysis and tactics boards, sometimes you just have to turn up and play and fight. Not only were we out-played today, we were out-fought. We were at 32-per-cent shooting from play. At no level of sport is that acceptable. That's something I'm disgusted with."

And here's what Kieran McGeeney said after Armagh recorded their lowest score (0-7) in the Ulster Championship for 35 years when losing to Fermanagh by five points.

"We thought we were ready for it and well prepared but it was just a different team that turned up. It looked as if we were rudderless up front - we missed frees, we missed easy shots in front of goal. It was just a bad day at the office."

So why was it that bad? And the question in Kildare is why the team 'didn't turn up and play and fight?'


It wasn't the first time this year that O'Neill talked about a lack of resolve among his squad.

"We gave up the battle in the second half. It looked that way anyway and we didn't fight until the end. That's the real disappointment but that's team sport. We either get up and fight or we lie down and feel sorry for ourselves and we're definitely not going to do the latter," he said after the League defeat by Mayo in Newbridge in March.

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He was wrong - Kildare lay down again last Sunday. Losing all seven games in Division One was one thing, but they had nine weeks to re-boot for the Championship. Yet, when Carlow put it up to them, they bolted for the gate.

If it happened last March, it was hardly surprising that it happened again, even against lower-ranked opposition.

But then Carlow have been showing for quite some time that as well as having a very good team, their determination readings are at their highest for many years. It was all too much for brittle Kildare.

Questions arose, too, about Armagh's appetite for war against Fermanagh.

"Outfought, out-thought and tactically destroyed by Fermanagh's game plan, warm weather-acclimatised Armagh froze and completely fluffed their lines, playing like a team that had been thrown together just before throw-in," was the verdict of local newspaper, 'The Examiner'.

O'Neill and McGeeney are regarded as modern managers, big on science and psychology and who regard every detail as crucially important.

Yet, both had to concede that their teams gave terrible performances in the opening Championship games, failing some of the most basic tests. In McGeeney's case, it was a fourth successive first-round Ulster defeat.

So why such little return on so much detailed planning? Obviously, it's easy to blame managers for defeats - indeed it happens all the time, even when they get nothing wrong.

Still, in the case of Kildare and Armagh, some of the pointers aren't good for O'Neill and McGeeney.

O'Neill's reference to 'game plans and video analysis and tactics boards' was by way of explaining that there's more to winning games than theory, but does that not raise a fundamental question - did they put too much time into that side of the game at the expense of the fundamentals?

His statisticians obviously provided him with the information that "we were at 32 per cent shooting from play".

Kildare supporters might not have got the precise number right but their eyes told them all they wanted to know about the team's inaccuracy.

The obsession with stats in modern-day management is comical. Counting wides, misdirected passes, lost possession etc is easy.

The difficult part is to understand why it's happening and to devise corrective measures.That's the responsibility of the manager and coaches.

Perhaps more time spent at training on some of the basics like shooting and passing and less with tactics boards, spreadsheets and psycho-babble might be helpful to many teams.

Cutting back on inter-county training and allowing players more time with their clubs could be beneficial too.

The wides tally was 12-0 to Kildare against Carlow and 15-7 to Armagh against Fermanagh. A few weeks earlier, Armagh had broken the rules on training camps when heading to Portugal.

Presumably, it was McGeeney's idea but it would have to be approved by the county board, who have a responsibility to uphold the rules.

That apart, was it money or time well-spent? Hardly. Indeed, a seven-point return against Fermanagh makes it a top contender for the 'waste of the year' award.

Too much planning can be as damaging as cutting corners but with so many people now aboard management teams, the level of detail and expensive add-ons has reached ridiculous levels.

Many Mayo supporters will always believe that, if David Clarke hadn't been omitted for the 2016 replay against Dublin, the excruciating All-Ireland wait would have finally ended.

Was it a case of over-thinking by management? It would appear so, since Clarke was - and is - one of best goalkeepers of his generation.

Keeping it simple may sound old-fashioned but once it includes the basics, it can still be effective.

Kildare and Armagh might have been far better off without tactic boards and boarding passes.

Irish Independent

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