There’s a general consensus that Gaelic football nationwide is suffering from a malaise due to the negativity employed by coaches and tacticians whose aim is to win games and not to entertain fans. When Dublin kept possession in their own half of the field for the last 10 minutes in their recent game against Tyrone, people were up in arms. They aren’t the only team who does this but there certainly are the best at it.
In large pitches like Croke Park, this type of tactic can be employed quite easily. MacCumhaill Park is a different story because it is a compact venue and to try to do what Dublin did would be far too risky. It is an issue that will have be tackled by the GAA.
There should only be so many hand passes allowed in defence, say within the 45m line and then the ball must go forward. I also feel that the number of consecutive hand passes should be limited. Then the ball must be kicked. These rules are used by coaches in training games all the time. We used them 30 years ago at inter-county training sessions. It teaches defenders to use the ball wisely and helps them to cope with real game pressure from forwards. Forwards back then weren’t expected to tackle. They were there simply to score. So, this type of tactical training was meant to teach forwards to tackle and put pressure on defenders. Some of our forwards took it on board and some didn’t!!
This Sunday in Ballybofey Donegal face off against Tyrone in the All-Ireland quarter-final in a game that should have everything. Even the thought of this encounter should make the hair stand up on one’s neck. I believe that we will see two very evenly matched teams using different tactics.
I believe that Declan Bonner’s Donegal men will attack Tyrone and will play very direct football. Mickey Harte may resort to the counter attack, soak up Donegal’s pressure and endeavour to frustrate Donegal. If people are expecting to see a lot of football, then MacCumhaill Park will be the wrong place to be. This will be a game of attrition. To date, Donegal have managed without Patrick McBrearty’s talents. I feel that his absence could prove crucial because, in a do or die game such as the game on Sunday, McBrearty could have been a match winner.
For Tyrone, Ronan McNamee’s absence could well prove costly too. Ronan would have been ear-marked to marshal Michael Murphy. This job may well fall to Padraig Hampsey who will certainly match Murphy for size. Murphy will prove a handful for any Tyrone player though.
I believe that Tyrone are also concerned about the threat that Ryan McHugh will pose. Ryan has been the subject of relentless fouling in every game this year. Teams are very astute at how they deal with McHugh’s calibre. If the onlooker is sharp enough, they will notice that theses persistent fouls are committed by a range of different players. Persistent fouling warrants a black card but if its carried out by different players then the black card is avoided. This doesn’t happen by chance. A coach or a manager will have this tactic well and truly pumped into his players’ heads in the lead up to the game.
Because the teams are so well matched, I believe that ultimately this game will come down to tactical proficiency. And yes, it must be added that having home advantage is a major plus for Donegal. My biggest concern for Donegal is that Tyrone will be playing on the back a high intensity affair against Dublin. Although our game against Roscommon almost two weeks ago was ill-tempered at times, it never reached the same level of intensity that Tyrone was subjected to by Dublin. It’s impossible for managers to mimic this ferocity at training sessions.
Eoghan Ban Gallagher is making a good recovery from the arm injury he sustained against Roscommon and may well start. Tyrone lost one of their noted defenders, Cathal McCarron against Roscommon a few weeks back and I assumed that he would be a great miss for the O’Neill county. I hear though that his replacement Hugh Pat McGeary from Pomeroy is highly rated in Tyrone. I believe that those in the know in Tyrone GAA circles reckon that he is a better player than McCarron. We’ll find out on Sunday.
Our own Neil McGee is struggling to get match fit this season with an ongoing injury. I feel that his presence would be a huge boost for Donegal. We’ll have to wait until 3.30 pm on Sunday to see if he makes the starting 15.
If people in and around the Finn Valley and people from even further afield such as our neighbouring towns in Tyrone would like to participate in the pre-match banter, Tom Comack and former Tyrone All-Star corner-back John Lynch are hosting an ‘Up for the Match’ event in Browne’s Bar at The Cross this Friday 3rd August at 9pm. Donegal’s panel include All-Ireland winners Neil Gallagher, Colm McFadden, Dermot ‘Brick’ Molloy and part-time journalist Donal Reid. Tyrone’s line-up includes John ‘Tar ’Lynch, All-Star goalkeeper Finbar McConnell and his brother Pascal who also played between the posts for Tyrone. Former All-Star Derry forward Paddy Bradley and Down’s former great and All-Ireland medal winner Mickey Linden will also be there to voice their opinions. It should a great evening’s fun.
Tir Conaill Abu!