GAA Football

Analysis: The Buckley effect? Monaghan trusting individual over collective

Monaghan coach Donie Buckley during the warm-up before the Allianz Football League Division 1 North Round 2 match between Donegal and Monaghan at MacCumhaill Park in Ballybofey, Donegal. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

IT’S an ill wind doesn’t blow someone good fortune. In this case, the wind has blown Donie Buckley north into the Monaghan camp, and his influence appears to be taking hold.

His lack of contact time with the players from the time his surprise coup was announced until Monaghan were actually back in full training has limited their ability to get the best out of him.

But over their three league games to date, they have shown the hallmarks associated with all the teams he’s been around.

Primarily, it’s about trusting the team to defend without the comfort of mass numbers lying in wait in front of their own goal.

Kerry had come so close to the All-Ireland in 2019 but when Buckley returned for the 2020 season, traditionally later in the year after a spell in America, he found his role cut-back.

It didn’t work and he left the setup. How much of that was to do with Kerry’s transition to a more-defensive game? Or was the change more to do with his absence? It’s hard to tell.

Either way, the ultra-defensive gameplan against Cork was such a disaster that Kerry are unlikely to ever try it again.

Buckley departed before the season was properly up and going and was quietly slipped into Seamus McEnaney’s backroom team over the winter past.

Anyone you speak to Buckley about will generally highlight two specialities: tackling, and match-ups.

Speaking in 2019, Kerry’s Paul Geaney described the “massive leaps” their tackling had made and how much “technique work” they had been doing on the topic.

“We’ve done a lot of work, a lot of technique work and there’s been huge improvements this year, I can see it already. We’re not leaving lazy hands in anymore.

“There’s been massive leaps in the tackling with Donie’s drills and the emphasis he puts on the tackle.

“You could see it in Mayo how good they were in the tackle over the last few years, that was all Donie. Well, I would imagine that was all Donie with the amount of work he does on it.

“Hopefully, we can bring those techniques we’re doing in sessions into games. I think we will because it’s very visible to me how much we’ve improved in the tackle.

“I think people might be surprised at how good Kerry are in the tackle this year.”

A couple of months in to his new role, is Monaghan’s tackling of the standard he’d like? Probably not at this stage.

There’s been almost a laziness to it at times, a statement that doesn’t require any greater evidence than the five black cards they’ve accumulated.

But it’s who’s doing the tackling and where they’re doing it at.

If you remove the black card periods from the Tyrone game, which altered the shape of both teams, the Red Hands had 26 attacks.

On 15 of those, Monaghan gave absolutely no protection to their full-back line.

Sitting in Healy Park that evening, the game actually appeared far more defensive than it was. Both teams were struggling to get the ball moved as quickly into their forwards as they had in previous weeks.

But on second viewing, that was largely down to the quality of the pressing in the middle third of the pitch.

Compared to say Armagh, who have set their tackle area inside their own 45’, Monaghan were routinely putting pressure on all three oppositions they’ve faced well inside the attacking half.

Tyrone did likewise, although they did free Frank Burns up a bit better to act as cover in front of Conor McManus.

It’s the lack of cover for Monaghan’s full-back line that’s been particularly notable though.

In recent years, whether by accident or design, Darren Hughes has fulfilled that role. He has been brilliant in it too. There are few stronger tacklers in the game. Referees don’t always reward him as they should.

He hasn’t been in the team much so far this year through injury but it was interesting to watch the first 20 minutes from Healy Park.

Hughes started that night and at no point in the spell he was on did he consider dropping off his man.

On each of Tyrone’s first ten attacks, it was man-for-man. Tyrone scored 0-4 and missed a goal chance through Darren McCurry.

It was actually only when Hughes went off and Dessie Ward came on that the Ballybay man began to change it up a bit and drop deeper.

The rest of the game was hard to analyse because of the constant black cards, leaving the team with 14 playing a very different shape, but the sweeperless theme was evident against both Donegal and Armagh too.

There’s a certain irony in this weekend’s clash with Galway being likely to highlight how two teams are passing each other by tactically, but on the opposite sides of the road you’d expect them to.

Galway have gone back to a full-time sweeper, with Finian Ó Laoi sitting pretty much full-time. At times against Roscommon and Dublin both, they had two spare men protecting the full-back line.

Monaghan, meanwhile, appear to be moving away from the idea in favour of manning up and taking on their own man.

Yet when Galway offer a sweeper on Sunday, be sure that Monaghan will take it. Donie Buckley was never a coach to look to impose one. Around the training ground at Cloghan, he tends not to mention the ‘S’ word.

But he wouldn’t look a gift-horse in the mouth either.

What he’s walked into in Monaghan is a group of players that are not short on defensive quality. At one stage under Malachy O’Rourke, they were regularly lining out with Fintan Kelly in the half-forward line doing man-marking jobs. There was no room for another man-marker in defence.

Conor Boyle remains unfairly under the radar of the national glare. Whether it’s from full-back or centre-half, he has an engine that never quits.

Kieran Duffy has developed into a physically powerful unit in the full-back line. Karl McMenamin has done well coming into the team, and Ryan Wylie is a real top-class defender when he’s on song.

His brother Drew is still to come back in. Karl O’Connell and Ryan McAnespie offer the drive going the other way.

One thing Monaghan have never been short on is defenders.

Their current ways are designed to help them remain relevant and competitive.

It’s a system they’re also trying to operate with six forwards, rather like the Donegal side that they drew with in such a madly thrilling game in Ballybofey.

When they’re closer to full-tilt, we may see more of a defensive worker bee introduced in one of the wing-forward slots.

There are very definite signs that Monaghan placing great trust in the individual above the collective.

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