Conán Doherty: Tackling's dead but blanket defences aren't to blame, attacking coaches are
Mark Lynch had me lined up one terrifying Friday night in Derry.
He had sauntered down the left in that deceptive way he does where it looks like he's struggling and absolutely fucked to be honest but he's still eating up yards anyway. It probably comes from playing with 13 different teams from the age of 15 and being told to run the pitch every time he got the ball. He'd take a hand pass off the corner back and someone would roar in from the line, 'go yourself, Mark', before a more urgent voice would scream, 'put it in the net, Mark'. And him 120 metres out from goal.
So there we were, about five yards inside the 45' on the left wing as he saw it and nothing but a one-on-one behind us in the full forward line. My only thought at that point was trying to encourage him to take the point. I had just tracked back, one steady pace as usual into position but was caught in the rare scenario of actually having to engage because of a turnover around the middle.
I never was a good man-marker, I got enough roastings off space in the sweeper position, but this was now last resort stuff and it was a total mismatch.
Mark Lynch had about two stone of muscle on me. He had speed on me. He had skill. He had experience. He had a goal if he wanted. Honest to God, all he had to do is come at me with the 10 yards my loose shadowing was giving him and the only thing I could've hoped to do at that stage was drag him down but, even then, it would've been as feeble and as pathetic looking as Mike Catt and his English colleagues more or less being flicked off Jonah Lomu as if they were just a swarm of midges briefly forcing him to raise his finger.
But, for whatever reason, Lynch pulled up and kicked a pass back beyond the 45'. Maybe he was tired, maybe he thought we'd have extra men in position by the time he went to come in off the wing but he could've hammered me into the earth there and then if he wanted to but chose mercy.
That trend has intensified of late.
There's nothing more pointless in this world nowadays than the middle two pages of a GAA match programme (maybe the exception is the O'Byrne Cup: who's looking forward to the big final on May 13?). Not only will at least 30 per cent of the 30 names be scored out before throw-in on your official programme that you've no doubt forked out three quid for, the positions mean absolutely nothing. It's not even that no-one will stick to the positions they're named in, it's that the actual real-life positions that are used in football now just aren't there. They don't exist yet in GAA archives or reports. 16 years after the 3-3-2-3-3 was tinkered with in dark corners north of the wall, the only formation we still have any record of is a 3-3-2-3-3.
No-one plays that anymore because they couldn't, even if they wanted to.
Formations vary now but perhaps the most common of them all now is the 2-1-3-2-2-2-2.
So what you get is no longer corner backs or right half forwards, you get flirtations with pragmatism.
- 2 markers.
- 1 guy not knowing what to do because his man has pissed off out the field.
- 3 half backs subdivided into 1 holder and 2 line breakers.
- 2 sweepers asked to join the attack too but they're doing so much running they operate at a steady 10k run pace.
- 2 more line breakers who will also double back as sweepers because there's an understanding between midfielders that they don't have to mark each other.
- 2 out balls on the 45 that will turn into trackers because we're still matching them up with the line breakers.
- 2 poor fuckers inside who won't see nothing but a 70-yard punt lashed in their direction.
It's the players posing as sweepers that are most interesting though.
Whilst Joe Brolly could never prove beyond reasonable doubt that they were the reason for the drastic change in attacking football, it was accepted in the conscience of the nation that blanket defences were not exactly innocent of the crime.
Why would you attack in a traditional way when you have 12 Donegal animals hammering into you, swallowing you up and then deploying line-breakers that would make you vomit just thinking about going back after them?
But in 2018, it's only the threat of what might be that does the damage now. Sweepers don't actually have to do anything anymore other than get back and fill a gap that they see and that's enough because attackers are conditioned into retreating from that sight.
You could actually be scratching your arse facing in the other direction but the different colour jersey will repel a lot of players just because you're 'in the right place'.
This is happening because coaches are obsessed with not losing the ball. Any stat will show you how deadly turnovers are and anyone who's ever sat in a video review session and watched highlights of themselves giving away possession, they'll not be so keen to run the risk again.
Dublin get away with keep-ball and percentage-plays because they're faster, tidier and fitter than everyone else. Eventually, they'll wear you down. Until the rest catch up on their conditioning, Dublin don't have to try anything different
Too many have adopted the same approach though when they can't afford to. They keep the ball at whatever cost and they do not, whatever happens, allow themselves to ever engage with contact. In the process, they're turning their backs and running away from a lot of players whose guts are busted because they've just run their fourth length of the field in succession, they ignore a lot of mismatches they could easily exploit - at least try to - and they don't punish guys who are just standing there like sausages ready to be tossed over if you want to.
All it would take is breezing by one of these bodies and the entire system would meltdown. And Mark Lynch would be told to put it in the net again when he's on his own 21'.