GAA Football

Fascinating Ulster football final rules this weekend

Gaoth Dobhair footballers: 2018 Ulster GAA Football Senior Club Championship: Healy Park, Omagh. Picture: Philip Walsh.

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

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

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

No better game 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, yet again, is living up to its reputation as one of the best competitions about. Great teams, great stories and great games.

Gweedore have come out of a Donegal championship that, with Glenswilly and Kilcar, has come a long way from where they were considered non-contenders regarding provincial honours.

That perception has been strengthened by their impressive wins over Cargin and Coleraine.

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

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

Whether Crossmaglen saw it and felt unperturbed or whether they felt they had to stick to their core philosophy of 15 against 15 and long kicking 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 Gweedore got running in behind the Crossmaglen defence.

Numerous times there were examples of Cross defenders running towards their own goal chasing the attacking Gweedore man.

Not exactly a position of strength. Gweedore's speed make them perfectly suited to swift breaks yet they are more than just a counter attacking team as 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 had to, to get over a valiant attempt by Coleraine.

Coleraine in many ways to me looked the more organised team in the modern sense.

They were let down by simply some poor quality play at times that cost them dear.

Scotstown, a wee bit like Crossmaglen are in a very naturally aspirated side, preferring direct long ball into a strong full forward line.

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

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

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

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

Conor McCarthy was kept much quieter than Scotstown would have liked and without his bit of creativeness and incisive play and finishing Scotstown, a bit like Crossmaglen, looked one dimensional at times.

That is, until they decided to go for 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 the slightly soft last free.

In difference to Gweedore's passage, 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. Gweedore have, especially in their demolition of Crossmaglen, demonstrated 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, Gweedore 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 Gweedore's attacking style.

Scotstown thus have a difficult choice, adapt to address Gweedore's obvious strengths or aim to win this playing football their way.

Cross declined to change their system and paid the price.

For me Gweedore hold the better and faster team and I think they could win.

Coming through a great semi-final win though, especially when your opponents played before you in theirs and struggled, is a very vulnerable place to be for Gweedore.

Scotstown will have the hunger and if the rain keeps up the ground may not suit Gweedore'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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