THERE’S much to look forward to this weekend with the inter-county football quarter-finals in Croke Park in front of big crowds.
Considering the way the draw has unfolded, there will be a particular buzz in places Armagh, Clare, Derry and Galway. All fours teams will think they have a decent opportunity of reaching an All-Ireland final. Clare might be the outsiders, but still you don’t remain in Division Two for six years straight by chance. While they must improve, Clare will fear nobody.
The key with players and management alike is to feed off the good atmosphere around the county but not to get distracted by it. Players can get carried away with the hype leading into the game and get their heads turned. Before you know it the final whistle has been blown, the team has lost with a belly full of regret to think about over the long winter months.
A big crowd or new environment can lead to some players to lose focus or deviate from team tactics and systems as they look to win the game on their own. Ego can take over with balls lost in contact or shots are attempted from crazy angles when simpler options were available.
Ultimately there is regret that the team or player didn’t just focus on playing the game and forgetting all about the external noise. Games were won up to this stage by focusing on hard work, executing individual roles or game-plans and overall performance. The result takes care of itself.
Considering game-plans, the way Derry play might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but nonetheless, they must be admired for the success they have had this year so far.
Anyone involved at the highest level knows how difficult it is to win when there is very little between teams. This year Derry have shown the importance of having a clear plan and then the ability to execute to a high enough level game after game. Not every team can do this on a consistent basis.
A team naturally enough needs to play well enough to win but it doesn’t need to be a perfect performance – if there is such a thing. Look back at many of Dublin’s big wins in Croker Park and they had many close games versus Kerry and Mayo in particular.
Jim Gavin would have highlighted at times that Dublin’s final performances weren’t a true reflection of the team’s strength and ability. Credit Kerry and Mayo for making Dublin look average but at end of the day it’s just making sure you do enough to win.
Many big knockout games can be lost due to poor performance. Rather than blame the weather, the referee or just poor bad luck, a team can underperform due to many factors which are in their control. One team’s under performance in fact can enable the winning team to play really well.
This is an area that Armagh appear to have improved on in recent weeks. Inconsistency has been their downfall, they can be very good, exciting to watch or in contrast can be very poor on certain days, like in the first round versus Donegal.
Considering the Galway challenge, there will be times when they will be under pressure and Galway will have their period of dominance. The challenge will be to ensure that Armagh’s performance doesn’t drop too low, or else it will be season over.
Galway appear to have the balance right between attack and defence this year. Playing in Division Two allowed them to keep certain plans under wraps which may have caught Mayo unawares. Similar to Armagh, when on the front foot they can be exciting to watch. The true test though of their defensive progression will be from here on starting versus Armagh.
It will be interesting to see how the games go. Will many teams win playing their best game of the year or will a solid performance do as the opposition underperforms?