11 Nov 2011

Where did it all go wrong?

Before putting this blog entry together, I gave serious thought to the content but after what happened a well known intercounty footballer recently [Kevin Cass], I have given all the people mentioned in this blog entry aliases. I don't want to 'cross the line' and get removed from the panel.

It's half time in Celtic Park, it’s championship quarter final day and the dressing room resembles a war zone. 

The physio is treating Tony the midfielder on the bench. He suffered a back injury in the last kick-out of the half. On the other side, the team doctor tries to stop the blood pouring from Paddy, the centre back’s busted nose. Two players are blaming the referee, the man who struck Paddy should have been sent off.

In the shower area, Joe, the kitman brings out a fresh set of jerseys for the second half, the first set soaked from the deluge of rain. Once the juice, jaffa cakes and water have been distributed team manager Liam gathers his thoughts. How has his team ended up two points in arrears after dominating the midfield exchanges?

The scoreboard reads 0-7 to 0-5. Does he take off the two corner forwards? Does he play two men up front on their own to create more space? Are the corner backs not up to scratch? Half time doesn't last long and soon there will be a knock on the door, failure to be out on time will result in a fine. When the last two players return from the toilet, the manager addresses the troops.

It's time to find out exactly where the game is being lost. One of the management team takes out his iPhone. During the first half he has been keeping stats using Dartfish Easytag (see screenshot). They are winning at midfield and the forwards have only registered one wide. 

The problem is simple. Too much possession being lost, including 7 misplaced fist passes, elementary errors. For the second half Liam urges his team to get back to basics. We can’t have another series of failed attacks in the second half.

We have a strong midfield, a 'keeper with a great kick-out and a dangerous full forward line. We need to eradicate the simple mistakes and get the ball forward early. It is also stressed that the forwards need to keep making the runs to create space.

So within the space of 10 minutes a set of agitated players are now totally clear of what is required. This is the power of some structured feedback. A mindless ranting session at halftime can be replaced with a simple structured set of instructions for the second half. 

It doesn't need to be information overload as players are knackered and only take in limited information discussed during the interval.

From the screenshot, you can see quite a range of items. The person taking the stats, depending on how much practice they have had, can record quite a bit of information. However, remember no matter how many stats you take account of, the key is picking out the key ones to get across to the players.

As the players trot out for the second half they need to be totally clear of the plan for the second half. Championship games need players with a calm head, there is an increased chance of better decision making when the game is in the melting pot. Then at Tuesday night's session the information can be reinforced, giving the players a target for the next round.

Liam’s team will face the parish rivals in the semi final, whom they have not beaten in the last four meetings. This is definitely a half time period that will need calm heads and clear instruction.

Have you any experience of team feedback at half time? Let us know via the Comment Section below.

Follow is on @MidUlsterSport

14 Oct 2011

Experience of Ballinderry or Emerging Kilrea?

“You certainly get value for money when you watch Kilrea”, was the comment of James Kielt when I was chatting to him during the summer. Kielt was spot on. Kilrea’s championship has been packed full of drama. Paul Morgan’s goalkeeping heroics against Magherafelt, the sendings off against Ballinderry, Emmet McKay’s penalty save against Banagher and Benny Quigg’s winning goal against Slaughtneil. That’s not even mentioning their spirited second half showing against Loup.

I have to admit, when they went down to 12 men against Ballinderry in the championship and lost the game, I reckoned that Banagher would end their season. They were in disarray. Ballinderry could absorb three suspensions to central players but not Kilrea. How wrong I was. I followed the Banagher game on twitter from a weekend break in Letterkenny and the availability of James Kielt and the fashion in which Peter Doherty regrouped his troops after the Lavey debacle, proved a masterstroke.

At Glenullin in the quarter final, Slaughtneil were in control of the game, but Benny Quigg’s goal proved the winner. The team I thought would have been an easy touch for Banagher had now put the Emmet’s out of the championship.

Driving home from work through Kilrea the past week, it’s hard not to notice the county final fever that has gripped the town. It reminds me of Slaughtneil in 2008. That year we played 7 championship games including two replays, but Ballinderry spoiled the end to our season. Our dramatic championship journey was in vain.

This Sunday, Kilrea will take the field for the first time in a county final. Kevin McGuckin will lead Ballinderry out of the other dressing room. As he jogs onto Celtic Park, joining him will be Conlan, McCusker, Conway, Gilligan and Muldoon from the team that ten years ago took the Derry title on route to the All-Ireland.

As Fabian Muldoon gets them into the warmup, they will be joined by Kevin ‘Moss’ McGuckin, Conor Wilkinson, Michael McIver, Martin Harney and Collie Devlin. Also factor in Connor Nevin, Ryan Scott and Declan Bell who are now seasoned championship players. The Shamrock’s have a great blend, with Ryan Bell, Dermot McGuckin, Aaron Devlin and Tony Martin the newest players in the mix.

Against Dungiven in the semi final, Ballinderry were cruising but took their foot off the pedal and gave them a lifeline into the game. With the game heading for the finale, the sides were level. Ballinderry, as they so often have done in the past, found an extra level and pushed on to win by five points.

They have done it so often. In 2006 v Slaughtneil at Glen, in 2008 v Slaughtneil in the final, in 2010 v Slaughtneil at Bellaghy, 2010 v Lavey at Greenlough and in 1995 in the Ulster Club against Errigal Ciaran. All stewards to end of match positions then enter Raymond Bell with two goals to win the game on a damp October Sunday at Ballinascreen. They never seem to panic; it’s a great trait to have. I remember ex-Crossmaglen manager Donal Murtagh saying that the first half was about making sure you were in the game, the second half is when you win it.

On Sunday when the game is in the mix will Ballinderry’s guile and experience prevail over the fresh new kids on the block? Or will Kilrea follow on from Coleraine, Loup and Slaughtneil by winning a title with a team with a relatively low average age? The average age of Ballinderry’s starting 15 for Sunday (from Derry Post likely lineups) is 26, Kilrea’s is 22.

Of the 8 people who predicted the game for this blog, we had one draw, one Kilrea win and six saying that the John McLaughlin will be heading for Shamrock Park. Here are the views of the pundits.

Paddy Downey (Bellaghy) - In my opinion Ballinderry will win John McLaughlin this year. I think that their greater experience at this stage will be key and also the fact that they have already defeated this up and coming Kilrea team in the championship gives them that extra belief and could put some doubt into the minds of the Kilrea players.

Ballinderry will not want to experience the same hurt as last year. Throughout the knock out stages of this year’s championship, whenever Ballinderry have been asked the question they have come out the other side with relative ease and in my opinion in Kevin 'Moss' McGuckin they have the player of the championship this year. I have no doubt that Kilrea will be contesting championship finals for the years to come but I just think that Ballinderry will shade this one in what could be a case of having to lose one before you win one for this group of Kilrea players. Prediction: Ballinderry

Enda Gormley (Glen) - Both sides will be putting a lot of emphasis on the midfield battle going into this game. Ballinderry will be asking why their midfield has faded badly in the large periods in the second half of the Bellaghy and Dungiven games while Kilrea have shown a marked improvement in this area in their last two games.

This for me is mainly down to a vast improvement in James Kielt’s game as he seems to have taken his work rate to a completely different level recently. For Kilrea to win they will need a much better return from their full forward line which would lack both the ball winning ability and creativity of Ballinderry’s attack. For me the greater potency of the Ballinderry attack will decide the game in their favour. Prediction: Ballinderry.

Mickey Drumm (Lavey) - It’s hard to look past Ballinderry for this one. They’ll be smarting from last year’s defeat to Coleraine so overconfidence shouldn’t be a problem. Their side has plenty of experience and have introduced a few younger players this year and they seem to be doing well.

Kilrea are seriously fit so if they can keep it close going into the last 10 they’ll be in with a great shout. Prediction: Ballinderry by 3.

Joe McCloskey (Slaughtneil) - Championship dictates that the two best teams reach the final, and on the evidence of their performances, this is probably true of this year’s final. Both teams will enter Celtic Park with an abundance of confidence that they can ferry the John McLaughlin cup back to their respective parishes.

The Kielt brothers are obviously the stand out players for Kilrea, but for me, it has been the half forward line that has laid the foundations for their victories this year. The Shamrocks suffered a blow with the loss of James Conway, but Kevin Moss [McGuckin] has more than made up for his absence with some powerful displays. The exuberance of a first final may drive Kilrea to the title, however, I feel that Ballinderry have a slicker attacking forward line which should see them edge it. Prediction: Ballinderry

Gerard O’Kane (Glenullin) – The final on Sunday is something I am really looking forward to. Like last year it is new territory for one of the teams and I suppose this also helps to keep public interest pretty high.

On the subject matter of who will win, it is a real difficult one. Ballinderry have the greater scoring threat from play, their forward line has been going really well, they would have the greater physical power than a younger Kilrea side and undoubtedly have greater experience.

Taking all that into consideration it obviously points to a Ballinderry victory, however, having been in the position before that Kilrea are in, and I know it is an over used term in Gaelic football, hunger for Kilrea has to be a massive factor. For a club never to have won it, to be in their first final it has to be a massive driving factor for them.

That is not to say the likes of Kevin McGuckin, Enda, Deets, who have 4/5 medals don’t want it badly either and after getting beat last year it might also spur them on too so all in all it makes for an interesting day. At the risk of being accused of sitting on the fence (or offending any of my mothers side of the family in Kilrea as she is from Kilrea but is now a Glen woman) I am going to say it will take a second day to separate these 2 teams. Prediction: Draw

Richard Ferris (Drumsurn) - Most experts will go for Ballinderry on the experience of their side but this young Kilrea team will love the challenge come Sunday, having had lots of success at underage levels these boys know how to win big games.

The Shamrocks are favourites and rightly so with players of the quality of Kevin McGuckin, Enda Muldoon, Conleith Gilligan and probably the player of the championship to date Kevin Moss McGuckin. Add to this the younger talent Aaron Devlin, Tony Martin and the new kid on the block Ryan Bell it will take a big performance from the men from the banks of the Bann to defeat Ballinderry.

Kilrea will look to the Kielt brothers, the McWilliams, Enda McAleese who I think is going well this year. The Pearses have young guns too with Benny Quigg, Paddy McNeill, Joe Morgan and Tieran Rafferty all class players.

It’s all on the day and Celtic Park is the place you want to play and you want to be there to play on County Final day for your club, not many get the chance. Both teams are well prepared by two very experienced managers Martin McKinless and Peter Doherty. So a great game is expected for a number of reasons, will experience out do youth. Prediction: the young guns this time - Kilrea to cross the Glenshane with John McLaughlin.

Neil McCloy (Loup) - An intriguing final between an experienced Ballinderry team and an emerging Kilrea team. I believe Ballinderry will be victorious Mal. I feel they will be smarting from defeat last year and will have learned from that valuable lesson. I also feel that they have too many quality forwards that will be hard to contain on the wide space of Celtic Park. Sometimes you have to lose a final before winning one and therefore Ballinderry get my nod. Prediction: Ballinderry

Paddy Bradley (Glenullin) - Ballinderry are hot favourites for the final and rightly so as they have consistently been the top team in Derry for 5-6 years now. After losing the final last year I don’t see complacency as a problem and they will be keen to get their hands on John McLaughlin again after last years disappointment.

Kilrea have had luck on their side to date. Magherafelt missed a penalty, Banagher had a goal disallowed, Loup a man sent off at a crucial stage. You need luck to win championships. Had we had luck we could possibly have won another 1 or 2. I think the game will be fairly close for the majority of it but in the end I think Ballinderry have better forwards and expect this to pull them through in the end. Prediction: Ballinderry by 4.

Thanks to the pundits for expressing their views. Sunday will answer many questions, or will Gerard O’Kane be spot on with a draw.

29 Sep 2011

Slaughtneil Are U14 Champions

Derry U14 A Final Replay – Slaughtneil 5-10 Glen 4-12 (AET)


This was the way football is supposed to be.  End to end, high scoring, plenty of drama and players free to express themselves.  Welcome to the world of U14 football.  This final was an epic encounter; you could see what it meant to the Slaughtneil players at the final whistle, the sheer joy.  Glen were totally devastated, the fact that they had just participated in a classic had no significance with them.

Glen were eleven points down and came back into the game.  With four minutes left they scored two goals to force extra time.  Their body language as they virtually ran into the pre extra time huddle could have pre-empted that they would pull away in extra time. 

This was not the case.  Slaughtneil didn’t feel sorry for themselves; they showed real character, rolled their sleeves up again and in two pulsating periods of extra time edged Glen out to take the title.

In underage, getting off to a positive start is a must.  Slaughtneil certainly did that.  With the breeze at their backs, they took the game to Glen and set the tone for the day.  Brian Cassidy opened the scoring with an early point.  This was followed by a goal frenzy.  Glen’s Conor Glass drove a ball forward, Brian Cassidy intercepted possession, launched an attack for Shane McGuigan to score a third minute goal.

One minute later the Glen net was bulging again.  Sean Cassidy’s pass found Liam Cassidy who crashed home Slaughtneil’s second goal.  It was a dream start for the Emmets.  Brian Cassidy cut out another Glen attack, the play changed ends quickly and Keelan Feeney was bearing down on goal but ‘keeper Callum Young made a terrific save.  The first of many, like his Slaughtneil counterpart, the Glen ‘keeper had a great game, despite the scoreline.

After Shane McGuigan tagged on a point, Slaughtneil hit their third goal of the game.  Keelan Feeney won possession from the kick-out, his lightening pace taking him through on goal and this time made no mistake.  So with just seven minutes gone, Slaughtneil were 3-2 to 0-0 ahead.  Despite James McCloskey getting their first score two minutes later, Glen were in trouble, Slaughtneil were playing like a team possessed.

In the next period, Glen began to get a foothold in the game, with Declan McCusker and the midfield duo of Doole and Glass stemming the Slaughtneil tidal wave.  However, against the wind Glen had to play a running game but were taking too much out of the ball. 

Industrious midfielder Ciaran McGuigan capped off a fine run to score for Slaughtneil and Mark Doole responded with a free for Glen, the only two scores during a fourteen minute lull in the scoring.  Trailing by ten points Glen had a spell of dominance of their own to get themselves back into the game.  Conor Glass setting up Tiernan Flannigan for a point, before Declan McCusker and Paudie Fullerton put Mark Doole through for another as the half entered stoppage time. 

A quickly taken free after a foul on Declan McCusker saw James McCloskey in on goal forced a terrific save by Slaughtneil’s James McRory. From the rebound Tiernan Flannigan went on to score the first of his three goals. The Glen full forward finished with a tally of 3-2 and was unfortunate to end up on the losing side.  Conal Darragh tagged on another point and Glen were back in the game 3-3 to 1-5.

The half was not yet over.  The next score was the game’s crucial moment and gave Slaughtneil a massive boost of confidence.  A well measured pass from Prionsias Burke found Brian Cassidy in space.  The Slaughtneil centre back hit an unstoppable shot to the top corner of the Glen net.  It would have been better than anything they would have been raving about on Sky Soccer Saturday.

At half time, it gave everyone in the considerable attendance a chance to catch their breath.  Glen were eight points in arrears, but this game was far from over.  Little did we know how this game was going to pan out.  Glen went route one early in the second half, but Mark Glass made a great interception and went on to have a terrific game.  A brilliant tackle from Mark Doole back in defence started a Glen move that saw Conor Glass setup James McCloskey for a point.

Glen had a spell of missed chances and were guilty of taking the wrong option.  At the other end Callum Young prevented another Slaughtneil goal.  Slaughtneil were struggling to kick into the breeze, it was hanging as they attacked the road end at Pairc Sean de Brun. 

With six minutes gone in the half, Glen got a much needed goal.  A throw up on the 13 metre line, saw Glen win possession and full forward Tiernan Flannigan rattled to the net.  They trailed by just three points and went on to dominate the game but were guilty of poor shooting.  It’s a learning curve, but so high was the standard from both teams, we maybe tend to expect too much.  We should remember these were only young lads developing.

In the twelfth minute Slaughtneil hit their fifth goal, Shane McGuigan’s effort hitting the post and Keelan Feeney making no mistake from the rebound putting his team 5-3 to 2-6.  This seemed to inspire Glen even more and they were camped in the Slaughtneil half with ‘keeper James McRory commanding in the air. 

Slaughtneil tried to make a counter attack but Glen corner back James McGuigan cut out brilliantly, if he had missed the ball Slaughtneil could have added another goal.
After a brilliant catch just outside the penalty area, Conor Glass cut the lead to five, but Shane McGuigan restored a six point advantage with a vital Slaughtneil point.  Such was the pace of the game, a two goal lead was never a commanding one. 

With two minutes remaining Glen were awarded a penalty for a foul on Mark Doole.  Up stepped Conal Darragh and he slotted expertly to the corner of the net, reducing the gap to three points.  Glen were not finished yet. 

In the next attack Fergal Bradley’s kick was well caught by ‘keeper Callum Young, Glen built from the back, with Tiernan Flannigan played in on goal, his ‘rasper’ hit the bar and bounced into the net.  The sides were level 4-7 to 5-4 and we were heading for extra time.

During the break, Glen were mentally buzzing after their comeback, but whatever was said in the Slaughtneil huddle certainly lifted their spirits.

So now for extra time.  After points from Mark Doole and Brian Cassidy, Slaughtneil had another goal chance, but Young made another great save from Keelan Feeney’s shot.  The 45 was worked short to the busy Sean Cassidy who scored a point, with a bit of help from the post.  Tiernan Flannigan was the star of the show in extra time and was then on target with a point. 

Shane McGuigan was having a terrific game for Slaughtneil and was on target from a free.  While normal time saw big margins come and go, extra time was much closer and this game was obviously going to the wire.  A great run and point from Keelan Feeney put Slaughtneil 5-8 to 4-10 by half time.

So it was down to the final ten minutes to decide the destination of the U14 championship.  A Conor Glass free brought the sides level after two minutes and a replay wasn’t put of the question.  A brilliant tackle from Mark Glass started a move, Sean Cassidy was fouled and a free from Brian Cassidy edged the Emmets ahead, with Liam Cassidy opening up a significant two point lead

A James McCloskey point made it a one point game once again and nobody was leaving Pairc Sean De Brun early.  Glen again poured forward in search of an equaliser.  Slaughtneil ‘keeper James McRory made terrific and crucial save from Conor Glass, and in another move, full back Mark Glass made a terrific catch which signalled the end of the game and the Emmets held on for a terrific win. 

Both clubs have met in the U14 and U16 finals, with Glen also in the minor decider.  It’s a great credit to the tremendous efforts put into youth development in these clubs.

Slaughtneil: James McRory, Rory McCartney, Mark Glass, Joseph McEldowney, Conor McAllister (capt), Brian Cassidy (1-3, three frees), Kieran Bradley, Ciaran McGuigan (0-1), Prionsias Burke, Keelan Feeney (2-1), Liam Cassidy (1-1), Fergal Bradley, Sean Cassidy (0-1), Shane McGuigan (1-3, one free), Jerome McGuigan.

Glen: Callum Young, Oran McGill, Jack Doherty (capt), James McGuigan, Stephen Glass, Declan McCusker, Tommy Mullan, Conor Glass (0-4, two frees), Mark Doole (0-3, one free), Conal Darragh (1-1, 1-0 penalty), Matthew Ferguson, Paudie Fullerton, James McCloskey (0-2), Tiernan Flannigan (3-2), Eoghan Young. 
Sub: Shea McMath for Paudie Fullerton (38 mins).

Referee: Gregory McWilliams (Ballinascreen)

11 Aug 2011

The secret of the massage

Over the winter I made out a gym programme for myself, a mixture of core, upper body and leg work.  One particular night, I did dead lifts.  It was a first for me. I was fine afterwards.  Next morning I was stiff but the morning after I could barely walk and had great difficulty getting into the car.  Having legs hanging together is not great for a cyclist.  I needed help.

A friend of mine Ryan ‘Snowy’ Bradley, was our masseur with the Derry Minor team, so I gave a call.  He quickly diagnosed that I had DOMS (Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness), which is effectively as the term outlines.  The soreness doesn’t come immediately.

I got a session booked in with Ryan in Magherafelt (Escape Beauty Retreat).  After a 40min deep tissue massage I headed home.  Up next morning, my legs were totally cured.  It was Lazarus-like.

I don’t think Ryan is claiming he can work miracles.  He points out the benefits of the deep tissue massage.  “It helps flush out the toxins and lactic acid built up during the exercise.  It returns the muscles to a relaxed state.  In addition it gives players/athletes a chance to relax after their event/game and gives them time to mentally recover.”

Last week I booked myself in again after a fairly tough schedule biking in the hills on so the legs needed a well deserved massage.  They are after all what keeps the pedals going around, so I try to get in once a month to try and help keep the legs fresh.

The Coleraine senior football team are all the talk at the minute.  The physical condition they have developed is noteworthy.  It leaves them a very tough opponent for anyone.  Ryan is the masseur for the Derry team and gave me an insight into the Coleraine mentality.  “Every night, after county training, no matter how late it is, the Coleraine lads queue for a rub.  They may get home late, but they see the massage a vital part of the training.“

I suppose it is no coincidence that they have transformed themselves into the effective unit that they now are.  They are now the team that nobody wants to draw in the championship.
Ryan covers a range of sports, from footballers to cyclists and ironmen. 

Also there are people just getting treatment for work related strains.  “The football boys mainly concentrate on the legs, whereas golfers would come in for treatment on the back, neck and shoulders.”

Ryan also works with various clubs and also with the County Milk Cup Soccer team.  “I have been working as masseur for about 8 or 9 years. I got into it as the girlfriend (now wife) then was doing massage as part of beauty therapy.  I thought because I had a few injuries myself over the years that I could get in and do sports massage.”

“I did the first massage course with a private company in Belfast and then also partook in courses through the Northern Regional College.  In addition I have also spent a couple of years training part-time with an Osteopath in Derry City.”

So from a man who could hardly get into the car at Fairhill Shopping Centre one day in Ballymena with a bad case of DOMS to someone who was cycled the next day, I saw the benefits of a sports massage.  What would it not do for a professional athlete who is pushing themselves to the limit.  I just remember the next time I decide to imitate Gerard Butler and his gruelling deadlift routine to ensure I have Snowy on speed-dial.