GAA Football

New system could be a hard sell to Down fans admits Paddy Tally

Down manager Paddy Tally. Picture by Philip Walsh

PADDY Tally knows that selling a new style of play to the Down faithful will be a tough ask but says his “primary concern is to get a system that suits these players.”

A heavily-depleted Mourne side managed to squeeze four points out of their first three games in Division Three, with a late Caolan Mooney goal in Sligo and an equally last-gasp Jerome Johnston point at home to Westmeath grabbing them victories.

With several experienced players on the way back, it sends them to Longford this weekend in a good position, still well in the mix for promotion.

There has been a very evident switch in their style in the early throes of Tally’s reign, and at times before Pat Havern’s red card affected the shape of their game against Westmeath, their attacking play was methodical and often too laborious in its build-up.

The Páirc Esler faithful have long been used to a more orthodox style, but the county hasn’t won an Ulster title in the quarter of a century since its last All-Ireland winning year of 1994.

“It’s a big change in Down,” Tally admits.

“We have to work with what we think is best for our squad. Of course you want to be able to play first-time ball all the time, but when you’re playing against a team that has 12, 13 men behind the ball all the time it’s difficult to find that.

“We did find it sometimes but when we did, there wasn’t an awful lot coming off it because the ball was being doubled-up and turned over.

“I trust the players to play what they see – if it’s not on, they don’t kick it. We’re trying to get them to the stage where they don’t follow directions all the time from the line, if they think it’s the right thing to do.

“Sometimes when we opened up and played off the shoulder [against Westmeath], some of the scores were great. It’s a combination of things.

“It maybe isn’t what Down have been used to over the years but our primary concern is to get a system that suits these players.”

Barring for the few like Kevin McKernan that went through Tally’s hands at St Mary’s, where their running game has helped them punch way above their weight in Sigerson Cup football, it’s a big change for the players as well.

Tally, who helped turn Galway into a more rugged version of themselves in reaching the All-Ireland semi-final during his sole year there last term, says that the full implementation of a new approach will need a lot of work on the training ground.

“There is [a lot of coaching]. When you’re playing a team like Westmeath, we’d watched them and we knew they were going to pack the defence.

“You have to commit players into that against them, but you have to be sure you’re not going to be doubled up or closed down and turned over.

“You have to play width, you have to be patient, you have to bring the ball back around again and get players prepared to come off the shoulder. It does turn into a wee bit of a game of chess but it’s the nature of the modern-day game.”

Down will be without the suspended Pat Havern this weekend, although Benny McArdle is expected to become the latest returnee to the squad.

Longford have had a superb start under Padraic Davis, picking up five points from their first three games despite the absence of a Mullinalaghta contingent of eight, some of whom could return on Sunday following their All-Ireland Club SFC defeat by Dr Crokes last weekend.

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