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14th Jun 2022

“You have to go on the front foot at times” – Brendan Rogers changing the game for full backs

Niall McIntyre

You’d wonder sometimes about the man who, with nothing but a thought, a player and a team to pick, decided all those years ago that full back was the place for Brendan Rogers.

You’d love to get inside his head. Did he know that the game was going to change? Did he have an idea that, by the time Rogers reached his peak, the full back line will attack as much as the full forward line? Did he have 20:20 vision or did he just go out on a limb?

Rogers is a clinical forward on the Slaughtneil hurling team, he’s one of the best runners in the GAA and, in accepting his PWC player of the month award for May, the acclaimed full back tells us that he’s been playing there since he was young.

But when he was young, it’s fair to say that there wasn’t a full back in the country that played the way Brendan Rogers plays now.

Knowing what we know now, knowing about running from deep and front-foot-defending and three from play in the Ulster final, it’s easy to say that, in the modern game, this Forest-Gump impersonator is the ideal number three. But it’s that initial brain-wave that blows you away.

“I would have played full back at underage, just by the nature of marking the better players on other teams” Rogers says. 

“Sometimes I’d have been midfield too if the better players were out there. I played in McCrory final at wing half back so I did move around a lot but then soon after I nailed down a spot at club level at full back, under Mickey Moran.

“That’s probably when I played the most consistent amount at full back.”

Moran mightn’t have been the man that put him there first but you can take it as a fact that it was someone like him that did.

The way football is played,” Rogers says, “the systems and styles that go on, it’s very difficult to say that man-marking is the only thing that a player can do (as a full back)

“Obviously I felt that you’ve to bring a bit more to the game, especially in games that are a bit more defensive, corner backs and full backs can get up the pitch to attack. You have to be versatile, you have to have that ability to be a ball-player.

“It’s not realistic to say you’ll go out and kick three points every day but look, you always have to try and help the team in any way, just as much as you’d expect the forwards to come back and do their defensive duties so yeah, I guess you have to go on the front foot at times.”

How does he know the right time to go?

It’s very much a momentum thing,” the dual star says.

“Say a ball breaks for you, or you’ve intercepted, you get a chance then to drive out. With the nature of your forwards coming back, generally, they wouldn’t be as fresh, so that’s when the full back line will push out.  It’s probably a timing thing and you just sense it, rather than randomly running up the pitch hoping something happens.”

I was getting a bit of cramp more so at the start of extra-time,” he says of his escapades against Donegal.

“But I got a lease of life and felt good again. Everything kind of went away, I seen a bit of space and Conor Glass in front of me was shouting come on, come on and obviously the roar of the crowd helped as well so, yeah I just thought, I have to go at it here, there’s no point in sitting to hold possession especially the way they had pushed up. So I had to go up the pitch and go at it. It was handy to get the green grass, it wouldn’t have been easy if I had to break too many tackles.”

Donegal and Ulster were one thing but Clare, and more specifically, the All-Ireland will be another. Many analysts reckon that Derry’s conservative style won’t cut the mustard at this stage of the championship but Rogers is backing himself and he’s backing his team-mates.

“Everyone is entitled to their opinion. Sometimes the opposition you play and different styles doesn’t lend to that type of game, regardless of the size of the pitch. We had a more open game against Tyrone and that was very fortunate for us, it opened up and we got a lot more scores on the board.

“Against a team like Donegal, it’s probably a more controlled game anyway given the nature of how teams would set-up. Of course a possession based game would lend itself to being more defensive and it’s probably not as entertaining as people would like, but the tactical battles in them games are far more important and the fine margin that it is to gain territory.

“If you look at it from a tactical aspect they’re very entertaining to watch but maybe from a complete neutral’s perspective it’s not that enjoyable. I’m not really in the business of entertaining, it’s about winning at the end of the day.

“If you want to do it in good fashion that’s all well and good, but unfortunately for Derry we tried playing that style for a long time and we were at the end of some results. It doesn’t really suit us and we found a way of being comfortable with each other and playing football regardless of the scenarios and teams we play. We’re not too worried about how we’re going to play in Croke Park. We’re confident with how we play ourselves and regardless of the size of the pitch and the opposition, we’ll back ourselves to manage it.”

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Derry GAA