Three minutes of play between Down and Donegal sum up the demands of the game
It might not be pretty but it’s modern football so we must analyse it properly
Donegal’s Ryan McHugh is tackled by Down’s Conor Laverty and Ryan Boyle at Kingspan Breffni Park last Sunday. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
When we watch football these days, we can do one of two things. We can complain and moan that the modern game is an eyesore or we can really sit down and dig deep into it. At one point in the first half of the Donegal v Down game on Sunday, there was a two-minute spell that reminded me of the Lions game the day before in Brisbane. Even the jerseys looked nearly the same.
But the worst thing to do here would be just throw our hands in the air and turn it off. There’s that old American saying – You gotta dance with the one that brung ya, or else you’ll go home alone.
This is the game we have now, like it or not. The least we can do is try to understand what’s going on in it.
This all happened between the 28th minute and the 31st on Sunday, leading up to a great point by Mark Poland to make the score Donegal 0-6 Down 0-4.
28:00 – Paul Durcan’s kick-out is slapped down by Ryan Bradley. Kevin McKernan picks up the break for Down but his run forward is stopped by Anthony Thompson on the Donegal 45. Eamon McGee picks up the turnover and feeds Rory Kavanagh who moves into the Down half and crosses the 45. McGee takes the return pass off his shoulder and runs into three Down defenders on their own 20-metre line...
Football now is about turnovers. Because teams like Down and Donegal pack so many players into one small area of the pitch, forcing a turnover is the one time when you have a chance of catching the other crowd with their pants down. In the three minutes and 18 seconds between Durcan’s kick-out and Poland’s point, I counted eight turnovers in total.
People think it’s all about loading bodies back behind the ball. That’s part of it obviously. If you watch Donegal, the sheer weight of numbers is the main reason they don’t concede goals. The two McGees are serious defenders, tough and aggressive coming out to the ball and very hard to get past if you get to face them. But they get a lot of protection back there.
You hear fellas saying that the way to beat the blanket defence is good, early long ball. I’d say the likes of Donegal and Down are delighted when they hear that solution put forward. Belt away with the long balls, lads – Neil McGee will break it down for whichever Donegal jersey is there to pick it up.
No, you’ve got to make them commit men forward, turn them over and move the ball at pace. You’ve got to have quick hands and quick brains.
Cork did it for 20-25 minutes against Donegal last year and they barely kicked a single long ball into the forward line.
28:45 – After taking a pass from Eamon McGee, Ryan Bradley is set upon by Down wing-back Ryan Boyle. They scrap for the loose ball but by the time Bradley gets it into his hand again, Kalum King is on top of him as well. Bradley has lost 25 yards at this stage and is only delighted to play it back to Leo McLoone, who is coming at pace...