Posted by Ewan MacKenna

Last Sunday's variety of tactics and approaches shows how Gaelic football has evolved and now we have diversity and more to talk about than simply pre-arranged match-ups defining an outcome.

2012 Peter Fitzpatrick proper

There is something that those from the old school, who spend their time bemoaning the present-day game, miss out on. Last Sunday we had three games of senior championship football played on Irish soil, and while not all of them were effective or advisable, we had a massive variation in approach and tactics.

Styles make fights and while Pat Spillane spends his time harping on about medicine balls and yesteryear, he’s missing an important and interesting change in the sport. Gone are the days of the predictable boot-to-long ball game, of man-to-man marking, of almost every pass being 50-50, of territory meaning so much more than possession. We have evolved and now we have diversity and more to talk about than simply pre-arranged match-ups defining an outcome.

It was a case of the good, the bad and the ugly in terms of tactics last weekend but at least it was unpredictable. Take the first game of the day as the most pronounced in terms of contrast. Longford may have defended in numbers and with huge intensity, but while some analysts would criticise this, it plays to their strengths and limits their weaknesses.

And that doesn’t make it less skillful or less deserving of credit than some more high-scoring styles because the work rate is phenomenal, the timing and speed of their counter-attacking is good and it maximises the play-making of Paul Barden and the room afforded to Seán McCormack and Brian Kavanagh. Meanwhile in defence, it offers protection down the middle and allows Michael Quinn to assist midfield while space behind him is covered. It all makes perfect sense.

Watching Wexford trying to break Glenn Ryan’s side down and defend against them was intriguing. But while they succeeded to an extent on the front foot, they struggled to the very same extent on the back foot, thus the replay this weekend. Going forward, Adrian Flynn saw the stagnation and traffic jam in the middle, and getting a yard on David Barden time and again from wing-back, he outflanked his teammates who were going lateral in possession although he still needed some fine finishing off either foot to end up with 0-5.

But those around Flynn struggled with their primary duty and were exposed by a system that looked to be put together on the field when they saw the pattern Longford had settled into. Graeme Molloy in particular was dragged deep and wide, and continually exposed by Brian Kavanagh and if Wexford are to succeed the next day, they need to offer their defence more protection, and stop turning over ball if they are to go forward in a blitz style.

Speaking of turning the ball over, we could not get over Louth’s tactics at the weekend. They were never going to beat Dublin, but with a brains trust of Peter Fitzpatrick, Brian McEniff and John O’Leary behind the scenes, we were stunned to see them fall face first into the most basic of traps. While referring to a different game, Darragh Ó Sé pointed out in the Irish Times earlier in the week that the key to limiting a side who play with intensity and pack-hunt is to move the ball at pace and not to get caught in possession.

Instead though, the few times Louth did get their hands on the ball, they tried to run it out of defence. When there was still a game on they gave up so many cheap scores this way that it crushed them. Even Paddy Keenan was guilty of not moving the ball on from the middle-third although he forced to run it through midfield repeatedly because of a crazy one-man full-forward line that the underdogs employed. In the end, that naïve gameplan was deserving of the 16-point hiding it received.

But if we’ve had good and bad, we predictably got ugly in an early-season Ulster Championship clash and we felt sorry for Peter Canavan as there was nothing he could do but resort to damage limitation by dropping his side deeper and deeper once Daryl Keenan got himself sent off. Down were far from spectacular in going about taking apart the home side, whose championship record at Brewster Park is more than impressive, but they were functional and adapted well to unexpected circumstances.

They didn’t push forward into space in a gung-ho manner, rather they laid a thoughtful siege, turning their half-back line and particularly Kevin McKernan and Aidan Brannigan into playmakers on the opposition 40. Conor Laverty’s unpredictability saw him drop deep too at times, dragging men with him and creating space and it was then that the fast hand-passing of those half-backs opened doors and got their side scores and the win.

Across the country it was all as interesting as it was diverse. Sadly though, those being paid to analyse it on television missed pretty much all of that, and stuck to their pre-planned agendas. That was their loss, not the games.