2 Sep 2015

Are we running away from the basics?

The game and society is changing forever and always. The GAA have taken great strides, but have we forgotten to reinforce the simple stuff in Gaelic Football? 
In the past children were hugely active in the playground at school. They played tag, hide ‘n’ seek etc and got all the exercise they needed. Times have changed. To compensate for this, the GAA Coaching Hierarchy began to put a huge emphasis on ABCs at primary school level. Agility, Balance and Coordination.
So in an era where the internet, social media and video games are highly accessible, youth officers and coaches have rolled out a very well structured coaching scheme to teach kids basic movement and exercise skills.
However there is another worrying trend creeping into our game. How many players can kick a long pass accurately? How many players can catch a high ball in a ruck of players? Can they put the ball over the bar on a regular basis?
After watching and analysing football over the past few months, it is interesting to see how much our game has changed.  That said, when the business end of the championship comes around, more often than not the team with the most skillful players comes out on top.  Especially teams with players who can carry out these skills in a pressure cooker environment.
Kerry’s decision to put Kieran Donaghy into full forward transformed their 2006 season. It was back to the era of Bomber Liston, Jimmy Keaveney etc. Last year when  they were struggling against Mayo, it was once again ‘Star’ who came in and changed the dynamic of the game.  It gave Kerry another option.  Within a few weeks, Sam was heading back to the Kingdom.
However, for this to happen you need two things…..a strong target man who can win his own ball and players who can direct a good pass into the full forward line.
In your club U14 team do you have players who can pass the ball accurately? How many forwards in your U16 team can score regularly from play? Can your midfielders, full back and full forward win a high ball against their opponent?

There are so many other things creeping into our game. Third midfielder, two man full forward line, blanket defence, breaking ball and turnovers. The list could go on.
These can all be very useful additions to a team’s armoury if they are looking for success or trying to play against a difficult opponent. But are we neglecting the basic skills of our game?
Consider the advantages of improving your long kicking.  Can your passes unlock a defence?  In the Derry senior final of 2012, Ballinderry won by a goal, Coilin Devlin latching onto a perfect pass from midfield by Enda Muldoon.  That bit of magic was the difference.
Consider the advantages of increasing your scoring rate, can you be another source of scores for your team?  I am thinking of the endless hours the top players spend away from the spotlight, on their club pitch equipped only with a bag of balls and their thoughts.
Consider improving your overhead catch. Can you win more kickouts or make a match winning catch at the edge of the square?  When St Patrick’s Maghera were dominating the college football scene, Adrian McGuckin spent considerable time coaching the high catch.  Picture the scene on that famous ‘back pitch’ with players arranged into groups of three and two balls peppering the middle man.  It’s hard to beat the basics.
To further this debate for another day.  Do Kerry have a higher standard of coach than other counties? Or is it simply the regular honing of their basic skills in the school yard, at the gable wall and replicating it until perfection?