THE club championships are beginning to reach the business end in most counties. As with the new county format, a lot of counties have opted for group stage systems and as a result the blood and thunder has been diluted.
It will no doubt return when competitions reach the knock-out phases, but the early stages are, in many cases, now becoming boring spectacles as they often mean little. A championship game without jeopardy seems to go against its DNA.
This, coupled with the possession-based football with packed defences, has made for poor viewing in many cases. Teams are no longer setting up to win, they’re setting up not to lose. Indeed, this past weekend a game in the Meath senior championship was 0-1 to 0-1 at half time. Take a second to think about that. We are perilously close to seeing a nil-nil at half time.
This scenario has been creeping us on us for years and I believe it was borne out of the Donegal team under Jim McGuiness but has evolved to something different. Donegal had a platform to defend and hit on the break to win. Kilcoo did something similar against Mayobridge last week in a game I watched in Newry.
The evolution in a lot of teams is now the first part, i.e., a platform to defend and be hard to beat with less emphasis on creating the attacking opportunities.
A good indicator of this is teams dropping off the kick-outs. This has crept into the club game in recent years and has spread like wildfire. So much so that many coaches will practice being given the kick-out in training.
Another aspect that coaches spend a lot of time working on is breaking down a packed defence or the slow attack. I’m in no way immune from this by the way, indeed the great Pat Spillane penned a column at the weekend mentioning that he had watched my recent championship match on Clubber. To put it lightly, he was less than impressed and that’s without him even knowing I’m a northern coach.
There are of course rule changes touted that would alleviate the blight of the modern game. You have the shot clock, the no-return to your own half once crossed and the kick-out must clear the 45 ideas. I think at grassroots these ideas would be nearly impossible to enforce and would have many unintended consequences.
The game will eventually evolve and become something completely different. It may be a Dublin, or a new tactic by McGuinness in his new term or it may be a slight tweak of the rules. Something that works will be copied up and down the country.
At the minute I believe it’s a cultural and coaching issue. The culture is ‘be hard to beat’ and ‘don’t take chances’.
We are turning players into over-coached robots and stifling their creative instincts. If you spend all your time coaching slow attacks and breaking down packed defences, then it becomes a self-defeating prophecy.
You play the game in slow attack mode even when it’s not as that’s all you’ve been coached. Ironically, this gives the opposition time to get back and set up their defence and then it is a slow attack.
There are no easy fixes to this as managers and coaches are expected to get results within the current climate.
You can be innovative and try to go attack more giving players freedom, but ultimately if you don’t get the results you’re gone. The circle of ‘don’t get beat’ is now complete.