Looping Virus spreading in Ireland - everything you need to know
I was on a team with someone who'd pull me aside before games and encourage me to give him some handy ball.
- "Don't be afraid to give me that little hand pass if it's on," he'd say.
- "Right..." I'd reply, always a little hesitant and a little quizzed. "But don't you be afraid to make some other runs too. You can look for different ball, you know?"
It reminded me of this 5-a-side moment, watching someone for the guts of 20 seconds - a long time in 5-a-side - shielding the ball, hanging on to it, using real skill and bravery to work it out of trouble and get it to a free man so they didn't have to lose possession. When the ball rolled to that free man, however, he absolutely lamped it down the pitch with the sort of welly a "stop messing around" da would be proud of on the sideline of a primary school soccer match.
The guy who had just done all the work for the purpose of keeping the ball just stood dumbfounded looking with sheer disappointment and confusion at his team mate who thought he was taking decisive action by getting rid of the thing.
"I could've done that, for f**k sake."
The same applies to the guy looking for that two-metre hand pass so he can take the ball off someone in the same position. Whatever you're planning on doing, the guy with the ball can do the same thing, you've just given him less options. (Unless, of course, it's like that telling time when Phil Jones dared to make something happen and Ander Herrera went full panic mode and began the swift rescue operation by taking the thing literally off his feet. When the guy on the ball is Phil Jones, the guy on the ball should go away. Wait, am I the Phil Jones in this story?)
There's a pandemic spreading in Ireland.
It doesn't discriminate between county or sport but micromanagers are studying it and, still, they're allowing it to breed.
It's called the Looping Virus and it's crippling Gaelic football in particular with endless patterns of players constantly coming on the loop, no options to hit inside and a mindset of fear that the ball has to be given to that player coming on the loop so he can take it further back out the pitch and into safety.
So here's everything you need to know about the disease.
What is the Looping Virus and where did it come from?
A branch of Glenn Whelanitis, the symptoms of this virus also include automatically popping the ball off to the closest person without having a look at what's around you. But the Looping Virus has wedded itself into the tactical nervous system of Gaelic football where players are instructed to run out of position and into safer areas of the pitch. When you see them running away from goal, that's your cue to give them the ball. When this repeats over and over, we get nowhere.
It has come from a good place, from good managers trying to move around packed defences but it has been infected by other coaches - you know the ones - who use it solely as another way of avoiding risk and a means of controlling another prolonged facet of time and play (rarely do they look to control ways of scoring).
Are there any Looping Virus case studies and how dangerous is it?
Looping isn't always a bad thing. Sometimes it's benign. Sometimes it can even be necessary.
Dublin and Donegal use looping well. They drag defenders out of position, they give the ball to someone else just as they've committed a back to tackle them and then they attack the space they've created. Donegal and Dublin use looping to their advantage - except when Donegal are playing Dublin, then they use looping not for the sake of making inroads, but for the creation of outroads.
Meath have been hit hard by the virus. Forwards have vacated danger zones like nothing normal. Fermanagh is in isolation at the minute. Reports are emerging that Carlow is in a permanent state of recycling. And, in the absence of a McShane vaccine, Tyrone looks to have prime breeding ground and optimal conditions for this thing to take hold.
Who is most vulnerable?
Forwards. Any team facing a sweeper. Any player not deemed strong enough to take it into a tackle, which is everyone. People who lack speed. Any player a manager doesn't trust to kick pass, which is everyone.
What are the chances of me catching the virus?
What are the chances of a manager taking over your team with no plans outside of next week? What are the chances of a fear-riddled coach taking you whose best idea of winning is solely to make sure you never do anything stupid (depending on the coach, a pass forward can be deemed as stupid)?
How lethal is the virus?
The Looping Virus doesn't mean a life sentence and it doesn't always result in fatalities, or even illness. It can be a good thing if caught early and managed well.
Unfortunately, many players have found comfort in the risk-free life, many managers have insisted on it and few solutions have been found to counteract the cases that have already set in. Cutting off the run instead of following the ball could help but this theory is still at research and development stage.
What are the symptoms?
Sweaty palms. Wide eyes. Blood-drained faces. A player who doesn't want the ball for longer than a hop. A forward who doesn't want to win a ball with a defender behind him.
Jumping on the spot. Caps slammed to the ground. Inaudible shouting. Managers absolutely freaking out at the prospect of an opposition player touching the man on the ball.
What examples are there of people who live with the condition?
Patrick McBrearty lives one of the best lives and is a known loop-er. He loops for a reason, with purpose, with angles so he can use it for his benefit.
Michael Murphy loops with a smile on his face because a predisposition of wanting to score overrides any negative impact a loop might have.
Ciarán Kilkenny has lived with both symptoms, the pass and the run. He was once accused of needing treatment for the virus but he has shown that he uses the side-effects for good, to put defenders on his string.
Dean Rock is one of the best cases in that not many people know he loops because he does so with stealth and urgency. Symptoms are harder to detect when the incidents are so minor and so positive.
How can I stop myself being infected?
Self-isloation isn't an option. If you have a football coach who doesn't trust football players, it might already be too late.
Education is always key. During your analysis sessions, you could identify passages of play where you all kept the ball but went nowhere. You could point to gaps and chances you all ignored. You can learn from the best and show how they use a loop to set up a chance, not just to constantly get out of trouble.
You can also try telling your team mates that you're not going to do all the work for them just to give them a ball two metres away (unless you're Phil Jones).
Am I going to be okay?
Well, you'll be doing fitness work either way. But back yourself. Managers respond to what's working. Even if they don't want you to kick or they don't want you to play a higher risk pass, they won't say anything when it works. Show them that other ways can be good and they'll loosen their grip.
So should I take the ball into contact?
Never. We didn't do all that strength and conditioning for you to use it.
Should I wash my hands?