Danny Hughes: Don't knock the dark arts if success is the aim
THE early patterns one has seen in the League matches thus far are relatively positive. Have coaches and managers all over the country abandoned the recent craze of stifling opposition forwards by flooding men back into defensive formations?
It’s too early to say, but three games into the Allianz Football League we have reason to be optimistic that the Championships games will be much more offensive than those perhaps witnessed in the recent past.
The trade-off in being more positive from an offensive perspective is that, quite frankly, you may not win anything.
How positive would the natives be in Donegal if they continued in their current vein and played magnificent purist football and were then beaten early in the Championship?
They are staring relegation in the face and, yes, it’s early days, but that’s the trade-off.
They have lost two games now by one point and, based on their rigid structure historically, it’s not hard to believe that a more defensive approach would have yielded League points.
At this stage, Donegal would take survival in Division One as it remains important to blood younger players at a higher level.
I started playing county football in the third tier so I know just how hard it can be to adapt to better standards come Championship season.
Paddy Tally has joined Galway’s backroom team and you can already see the footprint of teams associated with Tally.
There is an edge to their play, there is honesty of effort and they have won three games from three as a result.
I have watched the Tribe closely in the last few weeks and you can notice the Ulster characteristics in Galway’s play.
There has always been a fluency in the way teams outside Ulster played. The school of thought was that the dark arts were left to the henchmen from the north.
Pat Spillane, Colm O’Rourke and numerous other pundits over the years were never gushing in their praise of Ulster teams’ playing style, especially during the Tyrone and Armagh dominance in the Noughties.
Those 60 seconds during the 2003 All-Ireland semi-final between Kerry and Tyrone when Mulligan, Dooher and Stephen O’Neill were flying into tackles with Kerry’s Darragh Ó Sé, Dara Ó Cinneide and Mike w eventually resulted in Tyrone dispossessing Kerry.
This particular sequence of play will always rankle with the purists.
However, this model has been universally adopted by the best teams in the country now – with the possible exception of Mayo at times.
Dublin are the masters of it.
They engage the opposition in possession as quickly as possible, they continue to bodycheck runners and they often resort to all sorts of gamesmanship.
They are a brilliant team, of that there is no doubt. But let’s be real, they are no saints. They can engage with their opposition in any means they see fit.
Similarly, Kerry have had to adapt to survive. But the propaganda machine in the Kingdom will still spew the usual ‘traditional’
kick-passing narrative associated with Kerry teams of yore.
However, watch how they play and you can quickly gauge that the terms of engagement are anything but those Kerry have traditionally guarded as sacrosanct.
Éamonn Fitzmaurice is a practical and pragmatic man and in winning the All-Ireland in 2013, the end result justified Kerry’s means.
They find themselves at another crossroads and another year of being beaten by Dublin would be a bitter pill to swallow.
The question a player asks himself is ‘Do I have anything to show for my service to county teams during an inter-county career?’
You want the medals and the personal accolades. That Anglo-Celt or provincial medal and the Celtic Cross carry a spiritual meaning.
If nothing else, it is a unique achievement which cannot be bought, traded or given a monetary value. Few, if any, will regret that winner’s journey.
Mayo are slowly learning that it is necessary to adapt and this was no more apparent in 2017 when they were hugely unlucky to have not beaten Dublin in both games of the All-Ireland final.
They have had a mixed start to the League, but even in Mayo they realise that early League games are only a sparring session in comparison to later fights to be had.
Ulster teams are generally competing well thus far and Down continue to keep their hopes of promotion from Division Two alive.
The Mournemen have an excellent chance of beating Clare at home in two weeks’ time and you would like to think with survival guaranteed on six points, it would be a great morale boost to win a League final before going into the Championship.
Likewise Armagh may not have played well against Longford, but the important thing is winning while playing badly, as opposed to playing brilliantly and losing.
At this stage they have been there, done that and secured several t-shirts over the last three seasons of League football, so no-one will care one iota how they win promotion – as long as they do.
Tyrone may have won at the weekend, but I just don’t think they are playing well.
Time and time again Mattie Donnelly is the one player dragging this team over the line.
I know criticism of Tyrone generally doesn’t go down well with their supporters, but they continue to concede a lot.
It is one thing for the players to admit privately and publicly (like they have) that they must play more offensively.
But they should try and engage in a tackle further up the field as a starting point.
A full court press, to borrow a basketball phrase, in a League game is surely the starting point and then adapt from there if they have to.
Instead, Tyrone seem to be happy to shadow opposition players collectively until they get within shooting distance and more often than not it’s too late.Not a hand or glove even touches the opponent.
Now YouTube ‘2003 Tyrone Vs Kerry All-Ireland semi-final’ and watch that sequence of play for 60 seconds.
That’s 15 years ago. Spot the difference?