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John McEntee: Forwards need to give as good as they get

Dean Rock is the perfect example of a forward who bounced back from being given a torrid time by defenders to hit the opposition where it counts....on the scoreboard

LIFE as a forward sucks when you are up against an organised defence.

It’s worse still when those defending employ the dark arts of the trade. We all know what these are. It is the annoying defender who persistently pinches your back and grabs your love handles to the extent that they can more accurately record BMI changes than a nutritionist’s callipers.

Or the guy who slabbers in your ear for 70 minutes having employed a team of private detectives to rake up whatever information they could find under every stone and inside every closet.

It might be the centre-back who mauls you every time you attempt to run for an outlet pass. Of course, some players built a reputation on this knowhow rather than on their mastery of the skills of the game.

Some managers would say that in order to become a good team you must first become difficult to beat.

It is not a view I subscribe to, although I can understand this thought process. I guess the trick is to teach lads how to defend properly both as an individual and as a group. This is easier said than done.

Some managers have turned to other sports to find that magical secret that will make their players better defenders. Some sought guidance from rugby where their quick foot speed and knack of reading the shimmies was copied to limited effect.

Basketball defences were studied for zonal defending yet many managers attempt to apply the actual zonal defending patterns rather than the principles. Inexplicably, others even explored individual sports such as MMA and judo to see how the training could improve one’s ability to defend.

Aggression and commitment to the tackle are fundamental parts of defending. Without them one will never replicate the famous block Conor Gormley so brilliantly executed on Steven McDonnell in 2005.

As kids we grew up watching the fearless Mick Lyons of Meath. Mick was not the biggest man ever to play the game but he never shirked a challenge or shied away from a tackle.

During the hot summers of the late 1980s when I played ball in my cousin’s garden we pretended we were Mick, Colm O’Rourke, Gerry McEntee and so on. I remember with fondness my uncle watching and laughing as we took lumps out of each other, every hit being worse than the one before.

At half-time he said we could return to play the second half

but instead of Meath versus Dublin we had to be Cavan

versus Monaghan. That ended the game as far as we were concerned.

For a number of years the decisions of officials appeared to fall on the side of forwards. This was particularly so whenever the black card was first introduced. The tide is changing, it seems. The dark

arts are creeping back into our game.

Forwards have the option to sit there and cry about it or they can simply stand up for themselves. This sounds like fighting talk but it is not.

To understand my point of view you need to go to an inter-county game and spend your time watching the interactions between a defensive unit and their opposing forwards. Ignore the game itself.

Watch how the defender can clip the forward’s heels at will, pinch his skin, push him around the place. Where is his protection? The officials are not watching these interactions, they are watching the game.

What choices does the forward have? Bring it to the attention of the officials at the risk of losing his focus on the game is one option, while another might be to take his player for a run in the hope he does not catch up with him, which he inevitable will.

Another, perhaps more manly, option is to defend oneself by furnishing a dose of an equal measure. Dark arts are not the preserve of defenders. The great forwards could defend themselves. Colm O’Rourke had the sweetest elbow in the game. So too had Mickey Linden, Martin McHugh, Padraic Joyce, Stephen O’Neill and many others. They could use it as a bargaining chip: you don’t mess with me and I won’t mess with you.

When a game boils over because one person’s limit of tolerance has been exceeded the natural assumption is that they are frustrated at playing poorly or because they are getting beaten. The sore loser card is on display.

When I see this happen, I see a player who has not come to terms with the close personal attention he has received and, more importantly, has not learned how to deal with this attention. A forward who has all the skills but has not got the means to protect himself need not rely on the referee and his officials. He has to man up to the challenge.

Two years ago Dean Rock was being pushed around and intimidated in the drawn All-Ireland final against Mayo. He missed many scorable chances and was poor by his standards. In the replay he came out fighting. He pushed before being pushed, oozing arrogance, and he gained respect and admiration for his performance. That was the making of Rock. His example is a template for others to follow.

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