Ciarán Murphy: Why top forwards should imitate Ronaldo

No real point in the game’s best attackers wasting their energy on defensive duties

Conor McManus: should concentrate on what he does best – scoring for Monaghan. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

Conor McManus: should concentrate on what he does best – scoring for Monaghan. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

 

Cristiano Ronaldo was unveiled as Juventus’s new signing this week, the latest chapter in an extraordinary career.

At 33, the €100 million price tag might seem inflated, but the appetite for goals, and the certainty with which he knows how to go about scoring them, is absolutely undimmed.

In fact, what we have seen from Ronaldo in the last number of years, as he gets older but the goalscoring feats continue undimmed, is the reduction of his game to its most vital essences. Gone now is almost all extraneous movement. Any exertion that doesn’t lead to a chance on goal is deemed unnecessary.

In fact, it’s not just that he isn’t bothered about running when it’s not in pursuit of a goal, or that he thinks he can get away with it because of who he is – it’s that he’s decided it’s just a bad idea.

“I’m here to score. If I chase this lost cause, if I run 20 yards back towards my full-back to help him out, I could be out of breath when the next chance comes. Why would I risk that, just to look like a good team-mate?”

It certainly doesn’t look great . . . but what if he’s right? And what if the top teams in Gaelic football adopted that attitude as well?

I think Ronaldo is too thin-skinned to say that he’s prepared to take the criticism for not working as hard as his team-mates; he’s just supremely confident he can score so many goals that no-one would dare criticise him about it in the first place. And as he was in the Real Madrid dressing-room, he will be the best-paid player in Juventus, by far, and that confers a status on him also.

GAA dressing-rooms are rather more egalitarian affairs. There is no money for a start, not among the players at least, and so that most effective of societal power dynamics is not really a factor. But there is something deeper as well, a common cause that is beyond money or broader career aims.

For all but a tiny handful of clubs in Europe, the dressing-room you’re in, no matter how successful it might be, is only a stepping stone along your personal journey to Real Madrid or Bayern Munich or Manchester United.

In the GAA, you’re stuck with what you have – there’s no such thing as a personal journey to the top, not without the people you’re sharing the dressing room with now. You all get to the mountain-top, or none of you do.

And so that brings us to Croke Park on Sunday, and the reasons why Paul Geaney and Conor McManus don’t stand with their hands on their hips and jog in under the crossbar when their man goes soloing up the field.

Best attackers

We’re used now to seeing the best attackers in the game putting in half-hearted forwards’ tackles on opposing players 100 yards or more from where they do their best work. They do what they feel is best for the team. But are they right? When a corner-back flies up past Paul Geaney’s shoulder, should he put his head down and run back 100 yards to put a tackle in on his own 45 yard line?

Geaney is what people would call an honest lad, and he’ll make the run and be seen to be that honest team-mate. But what if he was really honest with himself? Brutally honest? Would he be more inclined to say to Kevin McCarthy – ‘I know that’s my man, but the right thing for you to do now is track that man, dispossess him, get the ball, run back up the field, draw my man, and pass me the ball so I can stick it over the bar, fresh as a daisy’.

It might not be the sign of an egalitarian dressing room, but it would at least be honest. How many corner-backs would keep haring up the field if they saw Geaney trotting in the opposite direction towards the 21-yard line in their rear-views?

You see it in every game – if a team leaves three forwards up, their opponents will leave four defenders to mark them. If they leave one forward up, their opponents will still probably leave four. It might not look like being a good teammate, but Conor McManus needs to have a word. It can sound polite, or it can sound outrageously egotistical, but the message has to be clear.

Anyone can track a runner. Games are won by people who can do the things that I can do, and that you can’t – in today’s game more than ever, as last weekend demonstrated.

Ronaldo might have to call a team meeting between now and the start of the season, but I get the feeling his new teammates already have a fair idea of the difference between his responsibilities and their own, if they’re being completely, brutally honest with themselves.

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