23 May 2022

SIDELINE VIEW: Time to fast forward

Time to reflect on a need for attacking power

Late Ciaran McFaul point earns Derry a point at home to Leitrim

Shane McGuigan in action against Leitrim. (Pic: Tom Heaney)

I can remember a conversation with a defender from the Derry club scene, asking what it was like to mark Eoin Bradley.

Many defenders will study footage of their opponent. It's all about the homework and the forensic analysis. They will hit repeat, pause it and slow it. All managers do it in search of the secret to stopping their opponents.

Jim McGuinness scoured mountains of footage of Dublin, sniffing for trends.

Then he saw it. The eureka moment arrived on his computer screen. When Dublin got sucked in the full press, they were vulnerable on the ball over the cluster of players pushed up.

The penny dropped and their goalkeeping coach Pat Shovlin, God rest him, was Jim's first phone call and soon 'Papa' Durcan was booming kick-outs over the top. And so the blueprint began.

At the business end of the pitch, in the white heat of an attacking cauldron and in terms of marking someone like 'Skinner', where do you even start?

“How am I supposed to know what he is going to do next, he doesn't know himself?” This was the response I got to my question.

The problem with the development of football at the moment, into the 'modern game' – as it is termed - , is that one of its strengths is an actual weakness.

It is time to strip it all back. The sporting lock-down, has left us scouring oceans of old games.

Watching Joe Cooney wave his magic wand in the first half of the 1990 All-Ireland hurling final, was a joy to behold. There was also the video on YouTube of another Joe – Joe Canning – and his brothers practising diligently on the farmyard. The tyre on the wall of the shed was the target. The birth of a deadly sniper's accuracy that unlocked defences.

Another Tribesman, Shane Walsh, popped up on my timeline yesterday. He was wearing a vest-top and had the physique to do it justice, but it was what he was 'selling' the viewers that intrigued me more.

Armed with a rebounder, two cones and a ball – he was kicking and soloing off both feet with the deft control that has made him one of the hottest properties in Ireland.

That brings me to another Shane. For all of Derry's underage development since 2015, Shane McGuigan has been the only real bright spark, in an attacking sense, with a proven track record that has burst on to the scene.

I remember going to watch a minor final at Owenbeg one year on Glen's procession to Ulster dominance. One thing stuck out. With the game gone from them, Slaughtneil continued to launch attacks and when McGuigan found himself in on goal, he sidestepped the 'keeper before guiding the ball to the net. I never forgot it. It was instinct, rather than thumping at a potential trailing leg of a defender.

When Derry won the minor title in 2015, he tore Cavan apart in the final in the unrelenting midday Clones sun. In the All-Ireland quarter-final, the conditions couldn't have been any more different. As Conor Berry tortured Derry for two goals, as the rain hammered down, McGuigan notched 0-7 - five from play - in the face of pressure and on a day for ducks.

His one weakness was an over-reliance of his left boot. The saving grace is his youth and time to hone his right to a desired level coupled with the humility to work at his game. That's the perfect cocktail.

From watching Derry this year, yes Rory Gallagher did play with just two and sometimes one player close to goal. As a manager, he is no different to anyone else. What the game against Down proved, was the absence or someone to take the slack of McGuigan, who scored 2-28 out of the Oakleafers' 7-54 across five games. The maths are a major concern.

I have lost count of the amount of times I have typed the term sporting lock-down, but from a Derry point of view it gives us time to study what really is needed.

This is not a Shane McGuigan love-in. It is reality. Coaching and well-resourced management teams will deliver systems. They won't do what is really needed right now.

When sport returns, we should be yearning for an increase on the unpredictable.

Scouring videos helped Jim McGuinness come up with a plan. And in that, regard he is a master.

The question is...what if Eoin or Paddy Bradley had both been fit for the 2011 Ulster final? It would've been a different outcome. The best actors will always pick up the Oscars.

The offset of the shut-down will be a better set of players returning to underage coaching sessions. That's the glaring advantage, provided they don't slump over a games' console all day.

Underage players need to realise, they are the future. Let's hope they aren't shoehorned into defensive players and sweepers, when they come out the other side. We have to trust in hope.


- Players should not have to chose between county and school.  Click here...

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