Steven Poacher

Stephen Poacher: Preparing for turnovers ahead of the event

CONTINUING the lockdown theme, I have really used the time to reflect and refocus my approach to coaching.

I don’t think any coaches like to be stagnant, because the game continually evolves and if you don’t progress  as a coach you will get left behind. If we had to search deeply for positives during our time of lockdown, one of the positives would surely be the volume of shared learning that was displayed through various social media platforms and webinars on Zoom.

Over the past few weeks we have had brilliant webinars  delivered by a wide range of coaches from various sports, but the one that caught my eye the most was delivered last year during our first lockdown by  Ger O’Connor, Dublin game and development manager,  on the subject of transition play.

One of the main points that emerged from that Zoom meeting,  and one for teams to consider over the next few months as they hopefully return to competitive action, was the importance of the word ‘turnovers’. 

Turnovers occur when you have possession and someone tackles you legitimately and takes the ball off you, or when you have possession and you give it away because of pressure being put on you.

The team who wins will usually  have significantly more turnovers than the losing team, so your ability to turn the opposition team over successfully will have a huge bearing on your success. A really effective team  will create a scoring chance within those next six to 10 seconds after forcing a turnover, depending on where they turn the ball over on the field.

I remember chatting to Martin Clarke about his time playing AFL football for seven seasons. Martin talked about how, as the game evolved, so too did his role. He would play two positions, wing and half-back and depending on where the ball was on the field, he more or less had to be in a particular area, ready to play those particular roles.

Throughout his time in AFL, transition play was the one thing which remained constant. With over 60 percent of total scores coming from turnovers, clearly it was a massive tactical focus for all clubs.

I would love to see the statistics in Gaelic football of the amount of scores that emerge from turnovers.

Imagine, if you  conceded  3-15 in your next league game and you score 1-12. If, in  15 of your attacks, you were turned over eight  times and the opposition scored 2-6 from those eight  attacks, most of us will still blame the defending!

Martin spoke at  length about how AFL teams were already getting prepared for a turnover before it happens. He talked about when they had the ball in an attacking position, already five or six (out of a team of 18) were already setting up in a defensive position, just in case they lost the ball while attacking.

 If they went on and scored, great, but if the opposition won the ball back, usually all the main avenues of exit for them were blocked and they were able to keep the ball in their attacking half or better still win it back there and score straight away.

In soccer, Pep Guardiola  and Jurgen Klopp in soccer have prepared and coached a very similar style, nearly preparing for the transition from attack to defence just as importantly as defence to attack.

This is where I think GAA teams need to go from a coaching perspective. Don’t wait until the moment of transition until you start charging towards your own goal  to try to win the ball back. You should already have your foundations of defence  in place. A few instructions to a few players in certain positions will help get this going.

When coaching how to defend the counter-attack, a few designated defenders can be told to set up in certain attacking positions to make the transition from defence to attack swifter, and give an under-prepared opposition less time to protect their own goal when they lost possession.

The key to transition football is turnovers so the most important part of it is not giving the ball away. Obviously the quicker you move the ball when a turnover occurs the more likely you are to score.

And of course you must generate turnovers through tackling, intercepting and forcing mistakes from the opposition.

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