LAST weekend saw the culmination of the 2020 season with both the men’s and ladies’ All-Ireland football finals being decided.
In the men’s final the familiar foes of Dublin and Mayo once again locked horns and in a year of the unexpected happening, Dublin resumed their position as the number one team in the country.
In last week’s article, I wrote about beating the restart press and described a few points on how to do this. The main focus centred around replication of the press and trying various options to use during the game. It was very clear to me that Mayo had worked on a number of strategies to counteract the Dublin restart press.
Firstly, they stacked one side of the field and played the ball to a Mayo numerical advantage while also swarming the break-ball zone to win possession and burst forward on the attack. Secondly, on the opposite side of the field they would try to create a 1v1 situation with Aiden O’Shea with players again swooping in underneath to collect any break balls.
Both of these restarts had relatively good success as Mayo found a fair amount of possession from both of these options. But as I had mentioned last week, their predictability can be their downfall and once Dublin learned what they were doing they evened out as the game wore on.
Last week I had also mentioned that to beat autonomy you need to become autonomous. Now there were a few times that Mayo showed a sense of autonomy during a handful of their restarts. Whenever Mayo ran these two restarts and Dublin had them covered with their press, a Mayo player would double back into the space in the centre of the field and collect a chipped ball from David Clarke. Only Mayo will know if it was truly autonomous or whether they had factored it into their restart routine as a fail safe option but it did work for them.
On Dublin’s restarts, Mayo gave Dublin a taste of their own medicine regularly lining out in a 4-4-3 and 4-3-4 formation in front of Cluxton. What this did was force Cluxton to go long, creating an aerial battle that Mayo were ready for and were getting a lot of possession from until Dublin changed their restarts to chipping them to the corner-back/half-back on the sideline of Cluxton’s right-hand side.
Being a left-footed kicker, this is his more favourable side meaning it is telegraphed less to the opposition. The receiver started on their own 45m line and would dash toward the 21m line to receive the ball. It worked for most of the game and with both presses being applied for every restart, it was very much like a game of chess.
For me, where Dublin beat Mayo on the restarts front is after they gained possession from a restart.
When Mayo received a restart, they mostly moved the ball at a fair pace which allowed Dublin to regroup and defend their goal competently.
Dublin on the other hand, attacked with purpose and with a pace that left Mayo more open at the back allowing Dublin to penetrate their rearguard much easier than Mayo were penetrating Dublin. Mayo did very well on restarts overall, but it was the Dublin pace after winning possession that shaded them in their favour in my opinion.
On Sunday, the culmination of my own personal 2020 football season came whenever the Armagh u-17 team I had been goalkeeping coach for lost away from home to Derry. Over the past two years I have had the pleasure of working with a fantastic set of teams and we had some exceptional goalkeepers on the team for both years. One moved on to become the current sub-keeper for the senior men’s team.
All the goalkeepers I worked with on the team worked as hard as they possibly could to improve and something that we agreed upon as a group at the start of each year was that none of them were there to be the starting goalkeeper for the Armagh u-17 team.
Every one of them were there to develop themselves as a goalkeeper as much as possible. Doing this will result in one of them becoming the starting goalkeeper for the team but unless they improve first they will not become number one.
Now that my season has ended, I will take some time to enjoy Christmas with my family circle and after that I will begin planning again for 2021 for both as a playing goalkeeper with the Armagh Harps and also as a goalkeeper coach. With the Christmas breaks comes the time to be able to sit down, evaluate the 2020 season and set my goals and targets for the coming season. I cannot wait. Roll On 2021!