Steven Poacher

STEVEN POACHER: Identity matters

WE are now three weeks into the National League and out of 32 teams, we have only seven on maximum points – Derry, Armagh, Donegal, Down, Westmeath, Laois and Leitrim.

The competitive nature of Division One has only Derry on maximum points, but interestingly everyone has at least picked up a point, with Roscommon v Monaghan this weekend the basement battle and it could go a long way to who gets relegated.

One, or maybe two if it’s a draw, 100 per cent record in Division Two will go this weekend with the meeting of Armagh and Donegal at the Athletic Grounds, a game that could produce fireworks both on and off the pitch!

Division Three pace-setters Down have a straightforward fixture on paper at home to Offaly and should retain their 100 per cent record. Westmeath, their nearest challengers, will be looking at promotion after having missed out narrowly last year.

In Division Four, Laois and Leitrim both sit top of the table in a league that requires a good start. Without it, promotion hopes can fade very quickly.

The one thing you would associate with those teams at the top of their respective leagues is certainly the quality of coaching that is currently going on in those squads. Derry, for example, under Rory Gallagher and Ciarán Meenagh, made serious strides in the past couple of seasons, and now under Gavin Devlin and Mickey Harte are continuing their upward trajectory.

Various Derry players have commented publicly on the impact of Devlin’s coaching and the differences he has made. One talked about the scoring angles and pods they continually do in training and pre-game in front of goal, and that’s something very evident in their play when you watch them. The obvious pace, power, cut runs, and variety of scores they make during games is a joy to behold at times and they are easily the most impressive team in Ireland right now.

From a coaching perspective, you want your team to have an identity during games i.e. you want to be able to identify coaching principles you have been working on. So for example if you have been working on quicker transition and you see your team playing a laborious possession-based game then obviously the work in training hasn’t come to fruition. If quick transition has been the focus, you want to see quicker attacks with pace, penetration, support play, good fluidity and mobility and a little bit of panache throughout games.

You can see the teams who have been well coached to date – they have an identity.

Armagh are well drilled and defensively really well organised under Ciaran McKeever’s coaching, Kieran Donaghy has added his stamp to their forward play and they are all in harmony with Kieran McGeeney as manager. Donegal are the same. Unfortunately, player mentality has a lot to do with it after last year, but obviously under McGuinness they have total buy in and seem to have a little bit more about them this season.

With the addition of Meenagh, Down have added to their game. They a little bit more flexibility to their attack which was badly needed last year and have gone from dropping off nearly every opposition kick out to pressing hard using the sweeper keeper. I assume that’s why Niall ‘Bobo’ Kane walked away, knowing Meenagh preferred a number one who leaves their line and becomes the 15th man.

In Division Four, Leitrim, under Andy Moran, have added former Cavan manager Mickey Graham to the backroom team. They have have obviously made great strides now probably sit two wins away from returning to Division Three for the first time in four seasons.

The Meaths, Kildares and Corks of this world really need to start developing an identity in their play and quickly. Time is running out with only three games left after this weekend. Former Carlow manager, Turlough O’Brien has described Kildare as naïve and not in tune with the modern game when he reviewed their beating at the hands of a well-drilled Armagh for RTE Sport at the weekend. He called them clueless, one-dimensional and noted how Armagh out-fought and more importantly out-thought them. It’s time for Kildare to really knuckle down on the training field.

Some seriously hard work is needed from all involved with the Lilywhites over the next few weeks, but certainly with a bit of coaching a nd structure can go a long way to saving their season.

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