THE Ulster championship again last week served up two pulsating semi-final clashes. Donegal easily overcame an out-of-sorts Armagh while Cavan again fought back from a nine-point first-half deficit to overcome a despondent Down.
Both games were gripping in two very differing circumstances. In the first game Donegal exerted dominance over Armagh with some excellent football which now sees them as the main realistic challengers to Dublin. The second semi-final saw Down take a commanding lead only to capitulate in the second half allowing Cavan to peg them back and win the game.
Both Cavan and Donegal played some good football, more so the second half for Cavan, but the area in which both teams dominated both their games was in the area of restarts. Both teams have exceptional goalkeepers who would list their kicking ability as one of, if not thee, main strengths that they have. Couple this with the restart principles and routines that both teams have, and it made for a very deadly combination in both games.
Donegal launched attack after attack from their own restarts as their outfield receivers made quantities of quality runs for their goalkeeper. Add into this the laser-like accuracy of Shaun Patton’s kicking and it meant that Donegal would get the kick off even in the smallest of windows. The played it into space on the wings, up the centre, short to the full-back line and even over the top whenever Patton was out quick with the ball in hand. Armagh did make it easier to pull off by deciding not to press Donegal’s restarts.
For Cavan, they played to their strengths. They have a tall set of midfield targets, anything between three to fivr men if they really wanted to flood that area. They had a serious advantage over Down in this area and used it to great effect. They stacked one side to gain a numerical advantage, they played balls out to their top high-fielders and they went as long as possible as often as possible.
Both teams performed very well on their own restarts but what also assisted them in winning their games was how they performed on the oppositions restarts. Both Cavan and Donegal pushed up onto Down and Armagh’s restarts as much as they possibly could and to great effect.
On opposing teams restarts Donegal and Cavan pressed the restart with the purpose of forcing it into an area where they had the advantage. More often than not, both Armagh and Down played their restarts into Donegal and Cavan’s press where they would then turn the ball over and create attacks which would then result in scores. Pressing their opponent’s restarts was a vital tool to help them win both of their semi-finals.
I have written before about how important it is for any team to have a competent restart strategy as well as having a set of restart principles to accompany them. Any team that are serious about challenging for honours will spend time in their training sessions in this area, rehearsing their routines so that once they are performed on match days they do so successfully. Where the really top contenders differ is by having a set of restart principles and routines for whenever the opposition have a restart.
How a team sets up against another team’s restart is just as important as how they would set up for their own. They must have a solid plan in place to counteract or at the very least pressure the opposition restart as best they possibly can. The main objective of this is to turn over possession as high down the field as possible thus giving that team a massive advantage in the opponent’s half of the field.
To counteract an opponent’s restart, you may think that you have to figure out what their restart routines are before games with video analysis or even during games in live actions. But if you understand the various types of restarts that a team can have then you can create a plan to counteract them. For me there are four main types of restart routine that have to be counteracted.
The first type is called ‘Space to Space’ whereby the receivers move to create space and the goalkeeper plays the ball into the spaces for the receivers to come and collect possession of the ball. To counteract this teams should play a zonal styled defence. One that allows the team to take up strategic positions in the spaces the opposition are looking to exploit. They may even commit more players forward in order to restrict the amount of space their opponents have available. Opponents may even use set routines or deception to try and get a man open to receive the restart.
The second type is similar to the first but slightly different. It is called ‘Space to Face’ and has the receivers again creating space but this time the goalkeeper plays the ball directly to the receivers. This is usually due to a zonal press and to counteract this type of restart effectively it is important to practice swarming the ball with the closest players to that ball once it has been played by the goalkeeper. Those players must get to the receiver either before or at the same time as the ball is arriving to reduce the chances of the receiver playing the ball on.
It is a strategy that carries a higher risk but if worked effectively it can be devastating in its delivery.
The third type of restart a team may need to counteract is called the ‘Stack’ and this is where a team loads one side of the field and attempts to gain a numerical advantage to win the ball either cleanly or through break ball. A team looking to counteract this restart type needs to work on competing for the ball as well as winning break ball with specific break ball games and scenarios. In any break ball situation there are three types of player: Breakers are those who break the ball, Shielders are those that shield the break ball with their body and Stealers are those who break into the area to steal the ball at speed with a well-timed run.
The fourth type of restart type is the ‘Over The Top’ whereby the team aims to pull their opponents towards their goalkeeper with the purpose of playing the ball over the top of the press long to the half forward line or an oncoming runner. Counteracting this type of restarts relies on the players recognising what is happening and communicating effectively to reposition themselves into the best positions to counteract it. Again, this must be practiced and worked upon in training for it to have any meaningful success.
Restarts have become a massive part of any Gaelic football match so much so that games can actually be won or lost in these situations. This is why teams are putting more and more efforts into perfecting this area. It is important to work on your own restarts, but it is equally as important to work on counteracting your opponents. Remember when working on restarts, ‘Don’t Forget Theirs!’