Down's kickout press more effective than Monaghan's
THERE’S pressing the opposition kickout, and there’s really pressing the opposition kickout.
Monaghan did one and Down did the other.
With the speed of the modern game it’s inevitable that there will be a number of short restarts, no matter how hard a team tries to get up in time.
There were times when Down simply had to concede a short to Rory Beggan. But when they had half an opportunity, they put the squeeze on and closed up all the short options.
It led in part to the game’s turning point, when Ryan Johnston intercepted a poor kick from the Scotstown man. It had less to do with the press, though, than the poor kick itself.
But the Monaghan stopper was looking for the kick that was so often cut off.
It appeared that Down had done serious homework on his restarts.
Monaghan know that they are not blessed with height in the middle. Kieran Hughes had a magnificent start to the game but as it wore on, almost all of the 50-50 ball went Down’s way.
When a team presses, Beggan will look to kick into a run out wide. Karl O’Connell is one of the primary targets for that ball.
But Down were very alert to that. The Monaghan ‘keeper wanted to use that ball but when he was setting up to kick and looking for O’Connell to make his run, he found that instead of standing on his toes, the Down defenders were standing ten yards out towards the sideline, facing on to O’Connell, knowing that was the space he wanted to go into.
BEGGAN is one of the finest dead-ball kickers in the land and probably the only goalkeeper in Ireland that still kicks from the ground rather than off a tee.
It allows him to speed up the restart and he has such a massive range that pressing up on him can be perilous. He showed that with his kick right out over midfield to Kieran Hughes at centre-forward against Cavan, setting Hughes away on goal.
They weren’t able to replicate that move on Saturday evening.
Down’s pressing was so effective that it ended up a night where the pitfalls of kicking without a tee were actually on show.
On 51 minutes, Beggan picked out Kieran Hughes in space and drilled the ball straight at him. It was as much Hughes’s error that he misread the flight of the ball and got underneath it, missing it completely.
But the pace on a ball kicked from the ground at that trajectory compared to one off the tee is different. Kicking off the ground with that pace on the ball allows the catcher no time to adjust to the flight. If you get it wrong, the ball is already gone.
That was one of three occasions where he found his target but they couldn’t gather the ball and Down had bodies around to pick up the break.
There were times when Beggan adopted his free-taking style of chipping the ball out rather than driving it, and Monaghan had more success off those restarts.
IT took for Monaghan to find themselves 1-12 to 0-8 behind for them to finally put a proper squeeze on to Down’s kickout.
There were times when they had enough bodies up the park but a feature of their performance was that they allowed Down to build from the back far too easily.
Take the Kevin McKernan point just before the goal. As Michael Cunningham sat the ball up to kick, he had six Monaghan players facing him inside his 45.
But behind that, they didn’t follow suit. Caolan Mooney was standing all on his own 50 yards away and Cunningham put the ball into his unchallenged hands. It ended with McKernan scoring and then the goal from the Monaghan kickout.
As Conor McManus registered Monaghan’s first counter-punch from a free soon after, he cajoled his team-mates to come up.
All the top sides have integrated into their games now that you must press the opposition kickout when you have a scoreable free. It worked to such great effect for Kerry against Dublin last year and has already become the template.
Monaghan failed in that regard. Again they had six bodies up the park but Darren Hughes held back as a third midfielder and that allowed Down to go to their corner-back and keep possession.
When they finally did press up, Peter Turley came to the fore for Down, winning three kickouts in a critical period.
And twice in the final quarter of the game, Monaghan allowed Éamonn Burns’ side out too easily when the pressure was really building.
The gap was down to four when Dessie Ward allowed Darragh O’Hanlon to scoot into space and take an unchallenged kickout out wide.
Communication appeared to be lacking in the final example, which was the toughest one for Monaghan to stomach. Kieran Hughes had just kicked the score to bring it back to a point with 65 minutes gone. There were bodies up the field again for Cunningham’s delayed restart.
But having scored from the left wing, Hughes ended up trying to track a David McKibben run to the other wing straight after his score. He hadn’t the legs and McKibben got out.
With that one ball, Down were able to quell the momentum. It would be six full minutes before Monaghan would re-enter Down’s half with the ball.
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER
Conor Maginn (Down)
THE little Bryansford maestro was about the only man that emerged from Clones last year with any credit after a good first half, but on Saturday his performance was all the more notable as he played a deep playmaking role for Down. He managed to land himself a point with an excellent effort during his side’s purple patch towards the end of the first half, and he had two assists, including a 75th minute supporting effort for Donal O’Hare’s clinching score. But most of his good work was done a bit deeper and playing Down out of defence with some precise passing.