Steven Poacher

Steven Poacher: Prepare your turnover strategy

HAVING watched last Saturday night’s epic semi-final between Tyrone and Kerry back a number of times, it still amazes me how Tyrone defied logic by winning that game off scrap possession from both sets of kick-outs.

There is a perception around the modern game that to win a game you have to win your own kick-outs and disrupt the opposition’s as best you can. On Saturday past, Tyrone lost 25 from 25 of the Kerry kick-outs and nine out of 26 of their own. That’s an incredible 34 lost from 51 overall.

Kerry had more possessions, more shots, more scores, more goal chances and still lost. Why? Turnovers!

Having watched quite a large number of games back this season, there is still one abiding feature that dictates the vast majority of games and that is that key 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 fact of matter still remains, and this was very evident last weekend, that the team who wins the game will have significantly more turnovers than the losing team.

Your ability to turn the opposition team over successfully will have a huge bearing on your success. A really effective team who turn the ball over will create a scoring chance within those next six to 10 seconds, depending on where they turn the ball over on the field.

You could see clear evidence of that when Conn Kilpatrick stripped David Clifford of the ball last Saturday evening and the counter-attack from McGeary, Harte, Sludden and McKenna was sharp, slick and clinical. There was an even better one in the first period of extra-time when Mattie Donnelly contested a cross-field ball just inside his own half and Tyrone broke at lightening pace, resulting in a McShane point less than six seconds after the turnover. Counter-attacking football at its very best.

Football is always evolving tactically with innovations in our game circulating regularly and being copycatted at club level, but one thing still remains firm – at least over 50 per cent of total scores come from turnovers in a game.

On Saturday, as mentioned previously, it was as high as 65 per cent, so clearly it should be a massive tactical focus for all clubs. I would love to see the exact statistics in Gaelic football of the amount of scores that emerge from turnovers because I believe it would be well over 50 per cent.

Imagine conceding 3-15 in your next league game and you score 1-12, but 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 blame the defending and focus on the defending, when in effect we should be focusing on not getting turned over cheaply.

A lot of teams in Gaelic football at the highest level now, when the ball is in an attacking position for their team, already have four or five players preparing to set up a good defensive position, just in case possession is lost while attacking.

If they go on and score, great. But if the opposition win the ball back, usually all the main avenues of exit for them can be blocked or even diverted to a certain channel and they are able to keep the ball in their attacking half, or better still, win it back there and score straight away.

Dublin were the kingpins of it, now Tyrone seem to have taken steps towards that model. 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. Pep’s teams in particular leave a core block of players in a safety net with the rest either hunting the ball at its source or committing a strategic tactical foul.

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 trying to win the ball back, 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 the counter attack defence, 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.


28 August 2021; Conor McKenna of Tyrone in action against Diarmuid O’Connor of Kerry during the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship semi-final match between Kerry and Tyrone at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Piaras ” MÌdheachSportsfile

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