Friday 15 November 2019

McGeeney applauds Dublin's tactical edge

Kildare manager Kieran McGeeney jumps for a ball with Charlie McCarthy (8) and his sister Kate (6) from Dublin, at the launch of the VHI GAA Cúl Camps in Croke Park yesterday.
Kildare manager Kieran McGeeney jumps for a ball with Charlie McCarthy (8) and his sister Kate (6) from Dublin, at the launch of the VHI GAA Cúl Camps in Croke Park yesterday.
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

In interviews after their defeat to Dublin at Croke Park, Down attackers Martin Clarke and Mark Poland admitted to being a little bemused as to how to break down the Dubs' defensive wall.

After a thrilling end to the preceding hurling match, the sight of Down running laterally across the 45-metre line, probing for gaps that didn't exist in an extraordinarily well-organised Dublin defence, was a mundane spectacle.

"You can hear maybe sometimes in Ulster about blanket defence, but it was actually a very strange game to play in because they more or less used zonal marking as such, and you never had a man following you," Poland said.

As is often the case, Dublin's adoption of a different system brings more attention than any other county, but Pat Gilroy's side are just the latest team to cut their cloth to suit a particular way of playing.


The idea of marking space -- as opposed to your opposite number -- has become prevalent with the evolution of tactical systems over the last decade. Managers are throwing convention out the window in a bid to find the best fit for their group of players and, according to Kildare manager Kieran McGeeney, it's something to be welcomed.

"This thing of, 'aw the team was far too defensive when the other team had the ball' -- does that read as stupid to anyone else as it does to me?" McGeeney said at the launch of the VHI Cul Camps.

"That's the whole point of defence. Look at soccer teams. I read during the week that they were against England's style of play, 4-4-2, as it goes counter to what Europeans play. (European teams) sort of bring everyone back to attack into the space that they left behind and work off their counter-attack. You can see the tactical awareness they have, that it's creating more space up front.

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"When teams here try (a new system) it's 'a defensive orientated thing'. Tyrone are fantastic at it, they suck you back in numbers and then counter-attack in numbers and they're probably one of the highest-scoring teams in the division.

"Dublin are doing it now themselves. They're creating more goal chances. When the ball breaks down they tackle back into the space that they have left behind them. They're creating more goal chances because Bernard Brogan and AN Other are nearly always up there on their own, two against two and lots of space.

"Is that defensive or offensive? It's good the way GAA is going in that regard. More and more people are coming up with tactical nuances to try to counteract other teams."

Despite their preference for bringing men behind the ball, Dublin scored more than anyone in the top three divisions in their league campaign. A change to 13-a-side is the most commonly offered solution to congested pitches, but McGeeney believes the GAA offer a better product now than before.

"The standard of football is way up from where it was and thankfully TG4 is giving us that chance to see where football was and where it is," he said.

"The way Dublin play, I think Gilroy has done a fantastic job. The whole point is to stop other teams scoring against them and score as much up the other end, and that works.

"Down, people would argue their defence isn't strong, but they have a great defensive system themselves. They work very hard. James McCartan and Brian McIver and those fellas have produced a similar system."

McGeeney also declared himself satisfied with Kildare's league campaign, despite describing the efforts of his forwards as "pathetic" in the aftermath of the Tyrone game.

"Against Tyrone, and after watching it a second time, we gave the ball away 38 times, most of them uncontested, so I would have issues with that sort of stuff. We scored five points when even against a brilliant defence the team should be scoring 12 or 13."

Dermot Earley will miss the entire season after suffering a recurrence of his knee injury, but McGeeney believes Kildare are better equipped to cope with his absence now than they were when he first took over.

"A couple of years ago injuries to the likes of Dermot Earley, Daryl Flynn and Johnny Doyle would have crippled us. But, no, four or five players have done well, such as Hughie Lynch, who did well in the league and will hopefully give us a stronger panel for the championship."

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