Brendan Crossan: John Daly's majestic kick pass - the light bulb moment

Galway's John Daly (right) pictured trying to stop the Kerry attacker. Daly's kick-passing was a glowing feature of Galway's play this season Picture: Philip Walsh.
Galway's John Daly (right) pictured trying to stop the Kerry attacker. Daly's kick-passing was a glowing feature of Galway's play this season Picture: Philip Walsh. Galway's John Daly (right) pictured trying to stop the Kerry attacker. Daly's kick-passing was a glowing feature of Galway's play this season Picture: Philip Walsh.

AMONG the many great moments of genius generously supplied by Kerry’s David Clifford and Galway’s Shane Walsh during last Sunday’s All-Ireland final, John Daly’s kick pass into Johnny Heaney in the eighth minute was probably lost in the mire of brilliance taking place at either end of the field.

There are moments in games that make you sit up and take notice – sometimes to the point where it makes you question everything about how Gaelic football is played.

Daly has been playing sumptuous head-up football all year for the Tribesmen. His cerebral kick passing became one of Galway’s many wonderful trademarks in 2022.

The Galway centre-back’s angled kick pass played in front of Heaney was a thing of beauty. It was the kind of pass that wouldn't look out of place on a soccer field: defence-splitting and played into space.

Daly gathered possession and just as he crossed Kerry's ’45-metre line he played the kind of pass that not only opens up defences, it opens your mind and prompts you to ponder why more players can’t play passes like him.

It was one of those light-bulb moments.

The pass itself was probably less than 30 yards. It was pin-point accurate, not the kind of high, diagonal 50-50 for a forward and defender to debate in the skies.

And, anyway, why would you play those kinds of 50-50 balls when Daly can deliver much more?

From the left flank, Heaney came running at a virtually unmarkable angle towards the centre of the pitch, knowing full well that Daly would find him with a pass right in front of Kerry’s goal.

In fact, Heaney’s run was as good as Daly’s pass. The Kerry defence was trying to hold a reasonably high line along the ’45.

A lot of importance is attached to a team’s defensive ‘plus-one’. Kerry’s trusted sweeper has been Tadhg Morley.

There could have been three Tadgh Morleys on the field, but they still wouldn’t have prevented Daly popping the ball into Heaney’s stride.

The fact that the move didn't end in a goal (Galway nabbed a point from it after Stephen O'Brien made an unbelievable block that deflected Heaney's effort over Kerry's bar) probably meant that the moment would be swallowed up by what Walsh and Clifford were producing.

Still, Daly's vision and execution makes you think why we don't see more killer passes in Gaelic football.

The constant refrain is that the game has never been more sophisticated - physically, technically and tactically - where the system is king and possession is 10-tenths of the law.

Then one swing of John Daly's left boot explodes the myth and instructs us that we haven't quite reached the End of Ideas and that the game still has plenty of evolving to do, particularly in an attacking sense.

John Daly has either been coached a different way than the underage masses or he's one of those rare free-spirited species who's survived the ruthless cull along the way and makes decisions on a field that are entirely independent of the dominant coaching manuals.

Nine out of 10 players - or maybe even 10 out of 10 players - in Daly's shoes wouldn't have done what he did.

In all likelihood, the vast majority of players probably would have been too conditioned to even look up; they would've hand-passed the ball laterally, darted into oblivion and been lost in the crowd. They may well have come out again and recycled the ball for a second or a third time.

Whether we like Derry’s style of play or not, I was firmly in the camp that this season’s Ulster final was an enthralling watch. While the game was often lateral, it was tactically absorbing.

It was as if Derry and Donegal were trying to put the other team on a spinning carousel, make them sufficiently dizzy before pouncing to nick a point.

We all understand the importance of possession in the modern game, but an undoubted flaw in this tactically long-winded approach is the amount of energy teams and players expend to get a point on the board.

Science doesn’t develop through verification of a theory; it develops through falsification. It’s the same with Gaelic football.

Derry’s theoretical approach was holding up until the All-Ireland semi-final stages. They now need to develop further, tweak things from an attacking perspective – a bit like Donegal did between 2011 and 2012 – if they are to win an All-Ireland.

There are so many coaching points to be gleaned from that one John Daly pass. For instance, holding resolutely to the belief that there is always space to be found in a blanket defence.

All it takes is a pocket of space, a rehearsed, angled run and a kicker that is coached to see the run and execute the pass.

GAA and soccer coach Shane Keegan talks about the importance of coaches creating “a psychologically safe environment” for players and cites Trent Alexander Arnold’s audacious corner-kick that left Barcelona flummoxed in their Champions League encounter at Anfield in 2019.

“If Jurgen Klopp hadn’t created a psychologically safe environment there is no way on this earth a young man like Trent Alexander Arnold would have taken that corner in the manner that he did,” said Keegan.

“That’s because of the culture of psychological safety – it’s encouraged and lads aren’t terrified to try things.”

There is also this notion that the modern-day player is better than those of the past. It will always be a subjective debate and we can be coloured by the era we grew up with.

In Gaelic football terms, today’s players are undoubtedly fitter and probably more tactically aware – but are they better?

When you sift through the archives of the ‘Noughties’, for instance, it was an era littered with great players.

Leaders. Players who took responsibility. A time when the coaching emphasis was pitched about right.

Underage coaches up and down the country should show the kids a clip of John Daly's left-footed pass to Johnny Heaney in the eighth minute of the 2022 All-Ireland final.

If they preach hard and long enough, they might just be moulding future match-winners.