Steven Poacher

Steven Poacher – Defensive systems don’t suit everyone

Jim McGuinness said that most teams  just copied Donegal's game plan in 2012

Jim McGuinness said that most teams just copied Donegal’s game plan in 2012

JIM McGuinness penned a very interesting article earlier in the week about how defensive coaches were leading the game down a dead end and I have to say that he is spot on.

The ‘one glove fits all’ mantra doesn’t work in Gaelic Football, whether that be from the individual conditioning of players or right through to the way a team systematically sets up. Remember, everyone is different.


Jim was making reference to the Connacht final between Roscommon and Galway. I have watched both teams quite a bit over the last few years. I watched a super impressive Roscommon put Down to the sword last year in Division Two and then again in the Division Two final whilst playing free-flowing entertaining football.

In the same Division I was super impressed with Galway when they travelled To Newry. They played Down off the park and missed a string of goal chances only to narrowly lose in an epic encounter.

Both teams remained true to their footballing identity and played to their strengths, Sunday past couldn’t have been further from the truth.

A lot of what Jim says in his article is right, a lot of coaches looked at what Donegal did in 2011/12 and thought anything is possible if we set up like that.

Unfortunately a lot of coaches don’t see the difference between a blanket defence, which is designed to keep the score down, and an effective counter-attacking system, which may mirror certain aspects of the blanket system but is totally different when it comes to the transition phase.

Two years ago I watched Tyrone early in the National League. Still in the primitive phase of their new counter-attacking strategy, they only managed to score 12 points. Now that same system and same team will score closer to 20 points.

The reason for that is that they have developed their transition play much more effectively. In 2011 Donegal were still in the infant stage of their system and I think I can vaguely remember McGuinness at the end of that notorious Dublin game talking about how they would need to develop the offensive end of their play if they were to challenge the following year.

He said that despite the fact that they had kept the swash-buckling Dubs to eight points, they only managed six and that wouldn’t be good enough for honours.

Anyone who can remember Donegal’s campaign in 2012 will maybe have had their judgement clouded by weak and sloppy analysis. The scorelines that team accumulated game after game was phenomenal.

In the Ulster final that year they amassed 2-16 and, if I am correct, 2-12 in the All-Ireland final.

Those were signs that their system had come from the basics of defending in numbers to keep the score down to knowing how to effectively counter-attack and transition in numbers at pace.

It is what all the top teams are doing. Be under no illusions, this current Dublin team are exactly the same. The difference is they transition at such pace with large numbers it’s called attacking play.

I watched the Munster final two weeks ago when Kerry had 15 men regularly behind the ball but they still managed to win the game by over 10 points and rattled up multiple scoring chances because they have realised this is the game that is now in fashion but like all systems, it will evolve in time and something else will come along.

Quicker re-starts are a massive part of game plans now and are actually helping the modern game produce more scores.

The ball is in play a lot more often and teams are retaining possession straight away. What baffles me is the volume of opposition now who drop off and concede the kick out.

We had a public outcry recently about bringing back the mark, but if teams are going too continually drop off it makes the mark redundant anyway.

This is another problem, teams who are in their early stages of defensive development don’t want to chance pushing up, they want to filter back with safety in numbers again inviting the opposition onto them.

Eventually when you hand a team 30 free possessions they will punish you. Whereas if you push up and press the opposition, the chances are you might win a proportion of the opposition re-starts thereby cutting down a percentage of their scoring chances.

I totally agree with McGuinness, only those teams with an effective defensive and offensive plan will ultimately have success; if it’s one or the other, forget about it.

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