WE are four games into the National Football League and only three teams have a 100 per cent record in all four divisions, Derry, Dublin and Cavan. After this weekend it can only be two as Derry and the Dubs meet in Celtic Park on Saturday in what promises to be a cracking game.
Other teams who are showing early promise are coming from out west. Roscommon, who have won three matches from four, and Mayo, who are unbeaten but have drawn two games, are the pace-setters in Division One.
In Division Three this weekend, Cavan’s perfect start will be tested by a Down team who are goal hungry and outside of Cork have scored more goals than anyone in the country with eight majors.
In Division Four, Andy Moran’s Leitrim have also been goal hungry and they are the highest scoring team with 91 points across four games, averaging 22 points a game – a phenomenal scoring rate regardless of the division or opposition.
For me though there is only one team who look like the best coached team in the country and that is Rory Gallagher’s Derry.
They are completely in harmony with their game-plan, even though Rory likes to do a lot of side-line coaching. All the players are very clear on their roles and responsibilities within the system but, more importantly, all players are accepting of their roles.
It is something critically important when developing and implementing a game-plan of any kind with a group, there must be role clarity and role acceptance. As a coach or a manager, you design the game-plan with clarity in all the roles and then it’s up to the players to accept them.
I have a simple viewpoint on it all. Imagine two teams, both with different plans. Team A has a very intricate game-plan with some outstanding ideas, probably more innovative than Team B’s plan. Unfortunately in Team A, who have a better game-plan than Team B, only 70 per cent of the players accept the plan and buy into it. Team B, whose plan on paper isn’t as sophisticated or slick, have a 100 per cent buy in and acceptance.
There is only one team who will progress and see success. Once you have players deviating away from their roles and doing their own thing then the ship will start to sink.
Derry are a prime example of a team who believe in their game-plan and are very content as a group of players to implement their game-plan to the letter of the law.
Odhran Lynch’s role in goals has evolved this year, I have watched them four times this year, twice at the ground and twice on TV. In the McKenna Cup semi-final and in Ardee aganst Louth, I noticed at both games Lynch coming out the field opposition kick-outs, creating a plus one in the middle of the field. This really forced the opposition to go long, where the likes of Conor Glass and Brendy Rodgers were there looking to break the ball and Derry’s zonal press would hopefully swamp the ball with an overload of numbers.
Defensively Derry remain one of the most stubborn and measly units in the country, their overall defensive intensity and organisation takes a huge amount of solid coaching and understanding.
In Chrissy McKaigue and Conor McCluskey they have two of the best man-markers in the country but it’s the flexibility they possess in that Conor Glass can also be deployed as a defensive midfielder and equally his midfield partner Brendan Rodgers can also perform a tagging role if needed.
Last year’s match up on Donegal’s Michael Murphy in the Ulster final was a prime example of his ability to adjust his role to suit the needs of the team. In Padraig McGrogan they have a serious operator at center half-back, one of the best defenders in the game at present.
Defensive organisation can be the easy part of coaching but coaching a slick transition or a slow play attack can be extremely hard to engrain and develop into a group, but Derry are currently streets ahead of a lot of counties in this regard.
Even some of the top teams are still relying on that moment of individual brilliance or an instant explosion of pace from a marquee forward but Derry offensively as a whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
Collectively as a unit, the depth, width, decoy running, cut movements, strike runners, variations in their attack is a joy to watch at times. Add in the fact they have one of the most inform forwards in Ireland right now in Shane McGuigan and you can see why it’s so positive.
The goal threat Derry carry comes from multiple sources and a huge variety of forward movement, the ball carrying ability and elasticity of inform attackers like Ethan Doherty, Benny Herron, Niall Loughlin and Niall Toner make Derry currently the best coached team in the country.
It’s the Dubs coming to town this week, if Derry continue on this upward trend it will take a seriously well coached team to beat them.