The face of Gaelic Football has dramatically changed

September 4th, 2012
by Weeshie Fogarty

A picture speaks a thousand words. Entering the last ten minutes of the recent Cork/Donegal All Ireland football semi final the northern men were six points ahead and literally coasting to their first final in twenty years. So comfortable were they in their play that they began to do a little show-boating. Holding the ball, passing over and back and as they say in basketball, running down the clock. The Donegal supporters were loving every minute of it. And then the all seeing eye of the television cameras zoomed in to Cork side line. And there it captured what is for me one of the iconic images of the season. Cork manager Connor Counihan was seen, sitting with his selectors, his face hidden, literally buried in his hands as if saying, "What in the name of God is happening here"? His hightly fancied side were being played off the field by Donegal and indeed it appeared as if some of the Cork players had literally thrown in the towel as all their efforts to break down this Donegal defence had proved simply impossible. And there was not one thing Connor Counihan and his men on the line could do to improve the situation. They had played all their best cards to no avail while out on the field the Cork men had completely panicked and finished up playing as individuals, talking all the wrong options as they failed to breech the winners defence. While the margin of victory was just two points at the end in favour of Jim McGuiness's superb side in reality it could and should have been much more.

Donegal have changed the face of Gaelic football for this season at least, and they are the talk of the town. Last year everyone outside Donegal and I include myself in this were highly critical of their tactics, that of parking fourteen men behind the ball and simply stifling the life out of the opposition. After twenty three minutes of last years All Ireland semi-final against Dublin for instance, they had only scored and concede one point, it was terrible stuff to watch. Dublin eventually, after a war of attrition squeezed through to the final.  This year Donegal have refined their style of play greatly and while the big part of their game plan is still to choke and stifle their opponents they have added some wonderful attacking play to their armory.

They had developed a reputation for winning low scoring games last year.  McGuinness realized that if they were to win an All Ireland this would have to change, and change it did. This year they have posted scores such as, 1-16, 2-13, and 2-18, against Kerry while it was 1-12 and Cork 0-16. Massive scoring in any mans language, but and this is the secret of their success their defensive set up has remained impossible to crack.  I have seen a massive improvement in the strength, ability, mobility and fitness in this Donegal side. It's obvious that they have put in a savage amount of time in training. The story in relation to midfielder Rory Kavanagh captures graphically the unbelieveable amount of detailed preparations Jim McGuiness has put into his men. In the summer of 2010 Kavanagh, then playing at wing forward weighted twelve stone. His manager told him he needed to add two stone of muscle to his body weight. To reach this goal Kavanagh was in the gym each morning with a full time coach, Adam Speer, and was put through a grueling weights program. On top of this he was put on a special diet. He began to eat six to eight times a day. He reached his target weight and his display last Sunday week as he covered every blade of grass in Croke Park was astonishing.

You can be the fittest team in any sport but if you have not got the required skills to go with this then it is all a waste of time. And Donegal have developed some of the best footballers we have seen this year. Paddy McBrearty, Frank McGlynn, Paddy McGrath, Neil Gallagher, a magnificent fielder, Michael Murphy, Karl Lacy and of course their high scoring Colm McFadden (he has scored 3-28 this year so far) these players be in line for All Stars later in the year. Superb footballers all. Donegal have raised the bar to a frighteningly high level. The game of Gaelic football has changed dramatically. We have runners, sweepers, swarm defenses, and Donegal players attacking, and scoring from their own goal line. The goalkeepers have secret codes as they kick out the ball and the opposition has their own codes for decoding these codes. What would former Kerry legend Paddy "Bawn" Brosnan say to all of this? The big problem for teams this year as they faced Donegal was the fact they were required to develop their own system to break down the Donegal rigid formation of play. However when you realize that Donegal have been perfecting their system for two years then how can any county change they style to the required degree in just a few weeks to counteract this?  And the big danger in all of this for me is the fact that "ordinary" club teams will endeavor to copy this new style of Gaelic football, and make no mistake about it, it is literally a new style unfolding before our very eyes.  It would I fear greatly, bring the game down to a new low level, things are bad enough with the swarming and basketball style we are subject to both at club and county level. It's going to be a fascinating final, Donegal are hot favourites. This might be the rock they perish on. Mayo were superb against Dublin, they kicked some wonderful long range points, and they are starved for victory. Their last All Ireland triumph was in 1951 had Tralee based Paddy Prendergast full back. The genial Mayo man might well be celebrating this year. I like this Mayo side.

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