Sunday 18 November 2018

'You are defending the blanket defence?' - Ciarán Whelan and Pat Spillane have very different views on defensive systems

Independent.ie Newsdesk

Independent.ie Newsdesk

Ciarán Whelan and Pat Spillane have very different ideas on how to deal with the recurring tactic of teams getting as many players behind the ball when on the defensive.

We've already seen 11 games in the All-Ireland SFC, six of the teams failed to register a goal and only two (Carlow and Donegal) managed to hit the net on more than one occasion leadign analysts to believe move away from the blanket defence has stalled.

Despite some encouraging signs in 2017, Dubs legend Whelan believes inter-county managers have reverted to the ultra defensive system and proposed taking four players off the field of play as a way of creating more space for players to flourish without burdening match officials with more complicated rules.

"We've just taken a snapshot from the four provinces over the last couple of weekends and the defensive system is alive and well and it's been part of our game since 2011," he told The Sunday Game on RTE.

"I can understand the merits and the effectiveness of it.

"It's our job to analyse it but it's destroying our game in terms of entertainment

"I can understand the logic behind it and every team is doing it, betting bodies back and making it difficult for forwards putting them under pressure and forcing them  to take bad shot options and try to play on the counterattack.

"My solution is, and there have been different solutions proposed over the past three years, do you have to keep so many men in your own half, do you limit the amount of handpassing, do you put the kickout beyond the 45... all those solutions are difficult to implement down the levels in club football and it's difficult for referees.

"The one thing I would do, and I think we have got to a stage with the level of conditioning and fitness so high we have too many players on the pitch and I think we want to let players express themselves again. I want to see the top forwards getting space, I want to see the space coming back into the game.

"Maybe we should look at trialling 13-a-side and create more space by bringing basic skills back into our games."

Spillane is of a different opinion and believes there is not enough emphasis on attack within inter-county management and attackers are not being coached to play through the blanket defence.

"This is the equivalent of painting by numbers, it's the most simplistic thing you can adopt into football. It's about defending, it's about keeping scores down, it's about stopping the opposition," he said.

"Six teams have played in this year's championship and not scored a goal. Mayo didn't get a goalscoring chance last week.

"The problem with the blanket defence is that there is no balance, there's no attacking plan, Secondly, the blanket defence is not playing to a team's strengths so this is what will come against Galway because you had Damien Comer and Sean Armstrong last week winning the ball on the sideline and they had to go back.

"It's very easy to bring bodies back, I was in a dance hall in Donegal and the dancefloor was marked out in the dimensions of a GAA pitch.

"I was asking the owner and he said, 'Yeah, the county team manager when he was appointed came into the ballroom floor every Saturday morning with his team and got his team to walk back into the defensive positions. They went to the local GAA pitch and jogged it. Morning and noon for five or six Saturdays'.

"The problem is that it's a simple gameplan but there is no Plan B

"My plan B is that you need to get forward coaches in to coach forward play, coach fellas playing with the head up.

"You go to Croke Park, a big wide pitch, and you find that some of the blanket defences are exposed.

"Mick O'Dwyer had a simple mantra, 'Never look at the O'Neill's on the ball, play with the head up' because if you are playing with he head up you have awareness of where your teammates are, where the opposition are, picking holes and finding space because there is still space there. It's a big area."

Whelan was surprised by Spillane's view.

"I can't believe you are defending the blanket defence. I never thought I'd see the day."

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