Thursday 18 January 2018

Tomas Ó Sé: Numbers just don't stack up in Donal Og's 12-a-side idea

Congestion not the problem - there's real beauty in seeing attacking sides take on massed defences

The massed ranks of Donegal defenders can't stop Stefan Campbell scoring a goal for Armagh in last Saturday's All-Ireland quarter-final
The massed ranks of Donegal defenders can't stop Stefan Campbell scoring a goal for Armagh in last Saturday's All-Ireland quarter-final
Bernard Brogan

Tomas Ó'Sé

I'll start by taking Donal Og Cusack to task over last week's suggestion that football needs to be rescued from blanket defence by paring it back to 12-a-side.

Maybe it's the football snob breaking out in me, but did he never hear of Dublin's 'Twelve Apostles' winning the Sam Maguire in '83? Croke Park still seemed cramped as a cupboard to the Galway forwards that day because they were up against a team that, even though down a fifth in numbers, still knew how to defend.

I like Donal Og by the way, I happen to agree with a hell of a lot he said. But I have an awful feeling he's a bit too impressed by this Super Elevens hurling they brought to America last year, maybe believing it might point to a better future for us amadans who prefer the bigger ball.

Well, it's one thing trying to sell some kind of hurling hybrid to American children, it's another trying to turn Gaelic football into something it was never meant to be.

Twelve-a-side is a total non-runner. What exactly would it solve? If a team wants to be defensive, they will be. You can't stop it. Possibly introduce some kind of incentive system (maybe two points for a score kicked from, say, more than 40 yards out) to encourage more attacking play. But cutting numbers? Lord God I think the public would laugh us out of town.

Do I have the answer for how to cut out blanket defence? No. Do I like watching it? Well it's probably not as riveting as when Kerry and Dublin were going at it hammer and tongs in the '70s, but I can still admire it. I can still get a kick from watching it brought to the level that Donegal brought it to in 2011.

Let's get something straight here. Defensive football isn't some kind of crime against art.


It strikes me the giddiest build-up to any game this year will be that before the Dublin-Donegal semi-final. Why? Because of the chess-game it became when these teams met at the same stage three years ago. Pat Gilroy and Jim McGuinness were trying to win with polar opposite philosophies that day.

The bottom line for any smart manager is he must set up his team to the strength of personnel at his disposal. Donegal's is the most organised and structured defensive system that has ever been in place in the game and I would always praise McGuinness for doing what he thought he had to do to win.

Now you see Kieran McGeeney's similar influence with Armagh. They don't believe there's any point in going toe-to-toe with better teams, so they settle on a system.

Before McGuinness took over, Donegal had the reputation of a sociable team, a group that didn't really apply themselves. Now they're seen as the opposite. McGuinness is the key to that because of the structure he has in place. If he left, I believe a lot of what Donegal have would unravel within a couple of years.

It's important to note that they had the players to win an All-Ireland in 2012. Michael Murphy is as good as any footballer in the country. I think Karl Lacey would get on any team. I've great admiration for the McGees. But they also had the work ethic.

Maybe the biggest change in the GAA of recent times is that coaches like McGuinness and McGeeney are looking at things a different way.

To me, that's actually a small beauty of our game now. It's become tactically fascinating.

If you had the top six teams in football playing one another all the time, believe me you'd have great games. They might be defensive, but they'd still be games people would love to watch.

Hurling is different. It's probably the best field sport in the world, but I prefer football because that's what I was born into. And I'd be inclined to leave it up to the Donal Ogs of this world to do what's right for their own game. Ours? Leave it with us boys.

It strikes me that there's a bit of negativity about this football Championship mainly because Dublin are such a special team. But take them out and the Championship would be wide-open.

People keep referencing how nobody has Dublin's numbers or resources, but then nobody ever did. The key to their success now is work put in at underage and that's a key that could open the door for any other county if they want it badly enough.

It's the attitude in Dublin that I admire so much. "Make Yourself Better" has to be the motto. Use what you have. The people in charge of development squads are now as important as the managers of senior county teams.

Kerry don't have Dublin's money, we're struggling in that regard. But we're well organised at underage now too and you can see the talent flower. And, remember this. It's only seven years ago that Kerry were going for three-in-a-row.


If Dublin are still dominating in five years' time, then we have a problem. But at the moment? Just enjoy them for what they bring.

They've gone up even further in my estimation after Saturday night's destruction of Monaghan, in which Bernard Brogan scored 1-7. How do you beat a massed defence? Well, if you're Dublin, it seems you just run through them.

Armagh were absolutely brilliant in the other game. There were a couple of ridiculous incidents but, outside of those, it was a very manly game. Armagh were very well organised and played with unbelievable aggression, borderline admittedly.

If I'm honest, I love to see that, teams pushing it to the very limit without ever quite going across that line.

Donegal weathered everything thrown at them. Their forwards struggled, particularly in the first half, but I think the Dublin game will suit them down to the ground. I suspect they're going to really, really perform.

That said, one thing that struck me last Saturday was that Donegal want teams to go short with their kickouts. They can be unsettled by teams going direct because they can't get bodies back as quickly as they'd like. And, if I had another quibble with them, it's that they lack long-range point-scorers.

But, when they needed a leader on the field, Murphy fairly stepped up to the plate. That man is some player.

Dublin's 17-point win I certainly didn't see coming. They could possibly be a great team now and that's a word I never use lightly.

Look, we've talked about stopping Stephen Cluxton's kickouts before, but you've got to come up with a plan to stop their half-backs and midfield running at you too. They're very intelligent in possession, all of their players are two or three-dimensional.

And the work-rate off the ball is phenomenal, nobody gets an easy kick against Dublin now. They strike me as a team that have just blocked out the outside world. Put out two fires against them and they still have four other fires blazing up front.

They look like a juggernaut that just won't slow down. How to stop them?

Massed defence, anyone?

Irish Independent

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