THIS weekend sees the first proper weekend of real knockout football in the Sam Maguire race and we’re also down to the last four of the Tailteann Cup.
Counties are starting to realise that in just over a month’s time or less, it will all be over for another year.
This weekend we will lose either Galway or Mayo and in fact, if the teams with momentum win this weekend, for example if Cork can beat Roscommon, Kildare can beat Monaghan and Donegal can beat Tyrone, you could have three more Division One teams being knocked out of the race and a very interesting quarter-final line up would start to emerge.
Obviously, a lot of football is to be played between now and then. The Tailteann Cup semi-finals should on paper go the way of the two favourites, Meath and Down but football matches obviously aren’t won on paper. Still, it would be a huge surprise to see them two results go any other way.
Last weekend was intriguing the way some games finished up, but it was the Armagh versus Galway match that really inspired my writing for this week.
For me, this was Armagh’s most significant championship win under Kieran McGeeney and one they probably needed after so many narrow psychological setbacks this year.
Narrow losses to Roscommon, Galway, Kerry, and a draw against Mayo in the league, and obviously the heart-breaking penalty shoot-out loss to Derry, their second big shoot-out loss in less than a year following last year’s All-Ireland quarter-final loss to Galway, meant that narrow defeats would have still been fresh in a lot of the players’ minds.
That is why, for me, this win in Carrick-on-Shannon, a Connacht venue, was certainly a huge bridge for Armagh and McGeeney and his management team to cross.
Look at the source of the winning score, coming from a Rory Grugan free. The same player had a late chance to win it from an offensive mark back in the Ulster final, albeit this chance on Sunday past was a little bit closer in and he had more time to compose himself because it was a free and not a mark.
Just before the free was struck, it was earned by Andrew Murnin. The game was all square at 1-12 to 0-15 and Galway were in the process of a slow structured attack, with Armagh doing what most counties do at that late stage, defend deep with numbers, and hope for a mistake, a wide, a shot dropped short, a good tackle or a misplaced pass and a counter-attack.
The latter is exactly what happened.
Galway clipped a kick pass across the field that took a wild hop on the greasy surface, Murnin nipped in, drove forward on his own and won a free from a clumsy tackle from behind by Paul Conroy.
What was the source of the winning Armagh score? Simple, a turnover.
Over 60 per cent of scores in Gaelic football occur from turnover ball. This can be from missed shots that drop short, misplaced or intercepted passes, a successful tackle, an opposition kick-out won or a sideline ball or free-kick not in your favour won back.
That’s why it’s critically important to make use of these turnovers when they occur and that your team do get some form of joy out of the opposition handing you cheap possession no matter where it is on the field. To force a turnover you do need effective and efficient tacklers and that’s why coaching the tackle has never been more important for teams. When we watch this weekend’s matches, wait and see how many games will be decided on either a successful tackle or an unsuccessful one, probably more so the latter.
There are a number of different strategies teams will adopt over the weekend to commence their tackle line.
For example, this season Roscommon have favoured dropping off the opposition kick-outs and setting up a middle third press that has naturally evolved into a deep lying defensive zone. If the quick break isn’t on they will adjust to a slow laboured possession-based attack.
Most teams in possession are playing process-based football but out of possession some teams favour a higher press rather than dropping and this will depend on a number of factors – the time of the game, the score – whether you are chasing or defending a lead – conditions with the breeze and how you manage certain moments. And most importantly of all, what suits the group of players you have at your disposal.
That last point is a mistake a lot of coaches make: they take a team’s model at the highest level and try and implement it at their level and maybe the players don’t suit the system.