GAA Football

Enda McGinley: Gaoth Dobhair can edge enticing Ulster Club football final

Darren Hughes will hope to lead Scotstown to an Ulster club football title on Sunday Picture by Philip Walsh

THE rule changes for Gaelic football are undoubtedly an important topic and every man and his dog will have an opinion. But it's wearing thin, even for me.

Not that anyone is being naive about the potential impact of the changes, but having heard many arguments strongly for and against there is the realisation that, in the end, no-one really knows.

Many people, like with Brexit, are just fed up with the endless discussion, which has essentially reached a stalemate and they have given up any enthusiasm regarding the debate.

One of my management colleagues, Rory ‘Rusty' McCann, captured it perfectly when he sent the following message: “Starting to get sick of this… just play the game”.

No better game then to bring us back to proper football chat than this weekend's Ulster final between Scotstown and Gweedore.

The huge contrast in styles between the two teams throws up all sorts of questions which will only be answered come Sunday evening.

Interestingly (if not somewhat ironically), the new rule changes would diminish the very contrast in styles which makes this game so intriguing. But again, let's not let rules chat spoil the anticipation of a potentially great clash.

The Ulster Club competition, yet again, is living up to its reputation as one of the best competitions around. Great teams, great stories and great games.

Gaoth Dobhair have come out of a Donegal championship that, with Glenswilly and Kilcar in the picture too, has come a long way from when they were considered non-contenders regarding provincial honours. That perception has been strengthened by their impressive wins over Cargin and Coleraine.

While Cargin will be kicking themselves for letting Gaoth Dobhair get too big a lead before starting to play, the Donegal side still showed real attacking ability, especially moving the ball through the hands in many of their critical scores, including the crucial first half goals.

In these moves, their ability to attack at breakneck speed with excellent slick interchange of passes was obvious.

Whether Crossmaglen seen it

and felt unperturbed or whether they felt they had to stick to their core philosophy of 15 against 15 and a long-kicking game which has served them so well, there was no sign of any plans to counteract it and they paid a heavy price.

All three goals in the first half came from excellent moves where Gaoth Dobhair got running in behind the Crossmaglen defence.

On numerous occasion there were examples of Cross defenders running towards their own goal, chasing the attacking Gaoth Dobhair man. Not exactly a position of strength.

Gaoth Dobhair's speed make them perfectly suited to swift breaks, yet they are more than just a counter-attacking team.

With Kevin Cassidy at full-forward they retain a definite ball-winning ability up top.

Scotstown, meanwhile, also produced quite remarkable tactics at times and they had to do that in order to overcome a valiant challenge from Coleraine.

The Derry men, in many ways from my viewpoint, looked the more organised team in the modern sense. They were simply let down by some poor quality play at times that cost them dear.

Scotstown, a bit like Crossmaglen, prefer direct long ball into a strong full-forward line.

Some of their moves were simplicity personified, a glorious long kick-out from Rory Beggan to a man's chest and Beggan then turned and kicked another long ball into the forward line.

They got scores from these types of ultra-efficient, minimalist moves three times at least.

In some ways, it is the opposite of a lot of modern play, including that of Gaoth Dobhair, which is all about multiple and well-timed angled runs that allow slick interchange of passes.

Yet, for most of the game, Scotstown were on the back foot against Coleraine's greater industry.

Conor McCarthy was kept much quieter than Scotstown would have liked and, without his bit of creativity, incisiveness and finishing ability, Scotstown, quite like Crossmaglen, looked

one-dimensional at times.

That is until they decided to go for what was essentially a kamikaze approach of throwing everyone forward.

Multiple times in the last 10 minutes the entire Scotstown team, including goalkeeper Beggan, was in the Coleraine half.

These massive periods of pressure were more akin to a rugby team penning the opposition into their own half and it did eventually result in the precious scores they needed, including a slightly soft last free.

In contrast to Gaoth Dobhair's approach, Scotstown essentially relied on a sheer desperation to get across the winning line.

That is driven by many things, but most crucially the combination of belief that they should be there and hunger from being the nearly men in the Ulster club for a number of years now. They have certainly served their time and will not fancy losing out to the new kids on the block.

Gaoth Dobhair, especially in their demolition of Crossmaglen, showed serious quality and pace.

They have placed huge emphasis on youth development over many years now and have a superb set of U21 players who are transitioning with complete ease to senior level. Sometimes that youth can be in for a rude awakening, but sometimes special teams come along with both the talent and belief, meaning they expect rather than hope to win the biggest of honours.

That mental sleight of hand can be critical in a young promising team never fulfilling its potential or a group ready to catch fire. For me, Gaoth Dobhair are the latter.

More to the point, while Scotstown showed an admirable ability to change between two very different styles to overcome Coleraine, either style would still leave them vulnerable against Gaoth Dobhair's attacking philosophy.

Scotstown therefore have a difficult choice: adapt to address Gaoth Dobhair's obvious strengths or aim to win this playing football their way.

Crossmaglen declined to change their system and paid the ultimate price. Gaoth Dobhair appear to be the better and faster team and I think they could win the final. Coming through a great

semi-final win though, especially when your opponents played before you in theirs and struggled over the line, is a very vulnerable place to be for Gaoth Dobhair.

Scotstown will have the hunger and, if the rain keeps up, the ground may not suit Gaoth Dobhair's fast movers.

Unlike the rule change discussions, it's a fascinating tie that encapsulates many of the real positive sides of modern football.

As ‘Rusty' says: ‘Play the game!'

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