Duo agree former players too negative


NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE:Kieran McGeeney looks at the success Donegal have had in the last two years and wonders what the secret ingredient is.

He hopes it isn’t luck.

“I don’t like relying on luck, and anyway, with the way I rub people up the wrong way I’d be waiting a long time for it.”

Self-deprecation aside, the Kildare manager had plenty of interesting views on the modern game and how it has evolved at yesterday’s Allianz National League launch in Belfast.

Both he and Donegal assistant manager Rory Gallagher were in agreement that former footballers need to get a life and quit with the negativity.

Last weekend he listened on the radio to ex-players criticising the current state of the game. It’s a real bugbear of his that the former greats can’t, in his words, let it go.

Instead of ridiculing forward play, he wonders why they can’t understand why it is that forwards aren’t getting the time and space to make hay anymore.

“I think it is an ego thing. A few of them should just get over themselves and say ‘actually, these fellas aren’t bad’.

“They have short memories but for me, the great thing about it is that TV is there to show us how bad we actually were at times.

“There were exceptional players and exceptional games but thankfully, like most sports, it evolves and has got better.”

He believes Gaelic football was lagging behind other sports, such as basketball, rugby and soccer in terms of spatial awareness.

“I look at the movement of players now. We used to say ‘Let’s kick the ball between each other; it’s 50-50, it’s very exciting, there’s loads of mistakes but don’t ever move out of your corner-forward or corner-back position’.

“When you’re defending in any sport you cut down your opponents’ space, you cut down their width, you put them into a small area and you try to dispossess them.

“Things have moved on. It makes it most interesting from a tactical point of view.

“I mean, what do you do with Frank McGlynn on Saturday night? That to me is an interesting battle.”

Coaching philosophy

As far as the Kildare manager is concerned, the challenge he faces in trying to devise a winning strategy in Croke Park on Saturday night, is what coaching is all about.

“I love being involved in football,” he said. “I can’t play any more, I’m too old, but you like being around young fellas who want to succeed and you try to show them things. Whether it’s me or not who brings these fellas success, I genuinely hope they get it. I think they’re capable of it.

“I’ll always have a hunger for success. But that’s just one of my demons that I have to live with all the time.”

Like McGeeney, Rory Gallagher reckons former players are too harsh in their assessment of the modern game.

He says they need to understand that teams might have a more defensive approach because of threat of daring wing backs coming up the field and scoring.

“I think there is too much of a delusional notion that things were better before,” he says.

“I think they (past players) need to promote the game and realise that it is different. If the defenders wouldn’t go forward, the forwards wouldn’t come back!

“Everything evolves. In most teams now, and I’m sure Kieran is the same, you are looking for the complete footballer. There’s less time and space because of the level of fitness and the increased tactics.

“Kevin Heffernan, who was written a lot about this week, he developed a corner forward coming out and people said that was a great strategy.

“That happens now and people are saying ‘you are playing a forward in defence’. You can’t have it every way.”

Kildare and Donegal will mark the start of this year’s Allianz League campaign by playing in the curtain-raiser to Dublin versus Cork in Croke Park on Saturday night.

McGeeney can see positives and negatives in the fact Kildare will only have two home games in their rookie season in Division One, but thinks Donegal should have top billing this weekend – not Dublin.

“Donegal are the All-Ireland champions and that deserves top billing,” he suggests. “You can’t get any higher than that, especially in the manner in which they have done it.

“They came out of nowhere this last two years but nobody would argue they fully deserve their success. They’ve been consistently excellent in the championship both years.

“But, it depends what sells. Dublin is a big city and that’s what sells stories, that’s what sells TV, that’s what sells advertising. That is sport.”

Westmeath setback

Meanwhile, Westmeath must begin their football league campaign without Dessie Dolan, who misses Sunday’s opening round in Division Two against Louth with a hamstring injury.

Dolan only recently returned to Pat Flanagan’s panel after opting out last year, but should still feature prominently in the remainder of their campaign.

Flanagan has otherwise named a strong team that includes goalkeeper Gary Connaughton, now back to full fitness after sustaining a broken ankle while playing in the US last summer, with captain Kieran Gavin named at full back, and Paul Bannon and John Heslin at midfield.

There are some young debutants, including defenders Mark McCallon and Kevin McGuire, with Dolan’s younger cousin James Dolan lining out at full forward, alongside Denis Glennon.

Paul Grimley’s first league game as Armagh manager, against Laois, may be short the Crossmaglen contingent — who are preparing for their All-Ireland club semi-final — but there are still plenty of familiar names, with Ciarán McKeever returning to centre half back, Brian Mallon to the forward line, and James Lavery partnering Kieran Toner at midfield.

New Wexford manager Aidan O’Brien has confirmed former dual player Redmond Barry as team captain, ahead of their opening Division Two game against Longford at Wexford Park: both teams are newly promoted to the division (with Longford have risen from Division Four over the last two seasons), and they met four times last year, Longford winning both league games, but Wexford winning their championship after a replay.

WESTMEATH(SF v Louth): Gary Connaughton; Mark McCallon, Kieran Gavin, Kevin McGuire; Michael Curley, Paul Sharry, Doron Harte; Paul Bannon, John Heslin; Ger Egan, Callum McCormack, Kieran Martin; Ronan Foley, James Dolan, Denis Glennon.

ARMAGH(SF Laois): Philip McAvoy; Mark Shields, James Donnelly, Gary McCooey; Kevin Dyas, Ciaran McKeever, Finnian Moriarty; Kieran Toner, James Lavery; Caolan Rafferty, Aidan Forker, Ethan Rafferty; Gavin McParland, Stefan Forker, Brian Mallon.

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