GAA Football

Danny Hughes: Football management is now a young man's game

Eamonn Fitzmaurice's playing days are not that far behind him, with the Kerry manager only just hitting 40 last year

GAELIC football has become a young man's game. I am not just talking about the playing side. I am now more convinced more than ever that the coaching and managing part of football (or indeed hurling) is better placed in the hands of a younger coach.

There is always a place for experience though. You need the wise old owl. However, it appears that the ‘inbetweeners' currently seem to have the upper hand.

Take Dublin's Jim Gavin for example. At 47 years of age, Jim would fit the bill of an ‘inbetweener'. He is assisted by Jason Sherlock, who retains the same baby-faced assassin look he had as a player and is also a close confidant of Gavin.

Add into their set-up Bryan Cullen, ex-Dublin captain, and you see a tip of the hat to a more energetic coach.

Kerry boss Eamon Fitzmaurice is younger again than Gavin, born

in 1977, having retired from inter-county football not too long ago.

Since winning the All-Ireland in 2014, Kerry and Fitzmaurice have been unable to follow up on their success, but it hasn't stopped Fitzmaurice winning Munster titles nor has it stopped him overhauling the Kerry squad by blooding a younger generation.

Jim McGuinness was a young innovative coach who was approaching his 40th year when Donegal secured that famous win in 2012.

And finally, having played with James McCartan myself at the start of my inter-county career, when James was appointed as Down manager in 2010, it almost ended with an All-Ireland title in the same year.

James's reign and his achievements as a manager, in my opinion, is a by-product of the impact a younger generation of manager and coach can generate, which, if developed, can lead to their respective teams being very competitive and consistently dining at the top table of inter-county football.

This can be backed up consistently by pointing to statistics in recent All-Ireland-winning results since 2011.

No manager over 50 years of age has won an All-Ireland title since then.

Declan Bonner, in his second stint as manager, included Karl Lacey in his backroom team. Lacey is a highly decorated, experienced and exceptionally well received footballer and it was a very shrewd appointment, especially given his senior status within Donegal's squad in recent years.

Kevin Walsh has employed the services of Paddy Tally (inset) to great effect, demonstrated in Galway's provincial final win over Roscommon last weekend.

I think we can all recognise that football has changed significantly since 2011. The era of man-to-man marking, catch-and-kick football and sideline kicks from the ground are over.

That's not to say that those same skills are not relevant to the game nowadays in the right place at the right time.

As Galway's man-of-the-match Shane Walsh demonstrated, the free from the ground remains one of the most accurate ways of scoring.

Galway's second half performance was a combination of a couple of areas of improvement on their part. They went man to man on Roscommon's kick-outs, pressing hard and, at times, ‘doubling up' on Roscommon defenders.

This was best highlighted in Sean Armstrong's introduction and his subsequent willingness to take a risk and double up on a Roscommon defender's break to the sideline which Armstrong duly intercepted.

This resulted in a Galway score and the net effect is that doubt had now crept into the Roscommon goalkeeper's mind for re-starts.

A nervous goalkeeper in any sport can be viewed as a liability and Galway players were now willing to take risks, as Armstrong demonstrated in the second period.

The Tribe also got to grips with Roscommon's midfield. If you had listened to the post-match analysis, you would have assumed there was a tactical change at half-time by Galway.

This couldn't be further from the truth. Galway simply battled much more effectively for possession around the middle diamond area from numbers 5-12 and were braver when attacking the ball all over the field.

Add into this Roscommon's failure to take their chances in the first 10 minutes of the second half, instead kicking poor wides and dropping the ball short into the goalkeeper's arms.

Under pressure now, the Roscommon forwards found space limited, as opposed to the first half when Galway players stood off their opponent.

The Roscommon players fell into the same trap as a lot of teams when they play with a breeze in the second half.

Players complacently think that this so-called ‘wind advantage' will be enough to guarantee them a few scores from distance.

When Galway forced the kick-outs to go long, this breeze also carried the ball over the Roscommon midfield, the net effect being that the ball was dropping into a Galway half-back line who were now finally on the front foot.

The Tribesmen's turnaround in the second half can also be attributed to a dose of good old hard work.

The Galway players' willingness to run hard between Roscommon's channels and between their lines created many more options for the man in possession.

Inevitably, this led to Roscommon players fouling their counterparts, with the frees duly dispatched over the bar by Walsh (on his left foot might I add).

Indeed, in the second period, Galway's half-backs, especially Bradshaw and Conroy, bombed forward in support of the attack in waves.

And while Comer was well shackled for most of the day, Shane Walsh, especially, and Ian Burke provided the inspiration and guile for most of Galway's attacks and scores.

So I don't buy into the concept that Galway abandoned a certain style of play, threw off the shackles and adopted a devil-may-care attitude of ‘Let's go out and just play football'.

Galway's game is based on

high-octane pressure,

The players are all monitored on computer in real time for a start.

When the statistics coming through are dropping in terms of sprints and speed and ground covered, a substitute will be sent in as a player tires.

Football has become a science.

Some players will play the entire match, such as Comer, Shane Walsh and Bradshaw for obvious reasons.

You need your marquee senior players on the field when the game is in the melting pot. Kevin Walsh now understands this. As does Jim Gavin.

You see Dublin's bench being run on with replacements who are likely to start in most other counties. Fresh legs will provide the sixth gear in modern football. Management and coaching has probably become, even at club level, a very time-consuming and stressful job.

You need the energy and indeed the natural enthusiasm of youth. You need the science.

The statistics will surely back me up. Coaching is a young man's game.

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