Posted by Ewan MacKenna
Wednesday 20 June 2012
Páidí Ó Sé may have been the finest exponent but he may also have been the last exponent.
And while you’ve seen it 100 times, you may never see it again. His body shaped like a bull about to charge, the veins throbbing in a head that was red with rage as he headed for a dressing room.
There chairs would fly, walls would shudder, tables would smash with the end result being his team would come out after an interval and win an unlikely victory.
First he did it with Kerry, more impressively he did it with Westmeath but he’ll never do it again. No manager will because gone are the days of passion and pride overturning professionalism and proficiency, of sweat overcoming science.
These days, it’s what is in a manager’s cheque book and what’s in his contacts book that counts. It’s why the best manager’s are ending up at the most resourceful counties and are surrounded by a team of experts from weights trainers to nutritionists to dieticians to sports psychologists.
Pat Spillane doesn’t like the size of backrooms teams and he doesn’t like medicine balls on the field during a warm-up but who is he to argue with scientific knowledge and who is he to argue with results, of which there are plenty?
Again this weekend, we saw blowouts and predictability in the form of Kildare brushing aside the challenge of Offaly and Donegal trampling all over Derry. Those wins were not simply based on the victors having better players, they were based on the victors creating better players and fitting them into a system that can’t be matched without years of work behind the scenes.
That’s what too many from a past generation of the game no longer understand that you can’t overcome a better team by simply playing a more traditional game. You overcome them by working harder than them away from the championship and while it may take years to achieve, that’s the only way it can be achieved.
Take a look at Kieran McGeeney’s side on Sunday. They towered over their markers right across the pitch and while Offaly gave it a go for 10 minutes, it ended up costing them every bit of energy they had in their bodies and souls with the result they were out on their feet before half-time.
In trying to break tackles they were tiring themselves. In trying to make tackles they were exhausting themselves and after the first handful of minutes where they were competitive, they could no longer get forward or get back in numbers as the opposition glided over the ground with power and pace and as a unit.
It’s hardly a surprise when you look at the rugby league-style players Kildare have shaped and honed in their own special weights facility in the K Club. Offaly too were said to be training hard but they weren’t training right and the fact they keep changing manager means they keep reverting back to year zero and simply cannot compete with the biggest which also happens to be the best.
In Ulster, it was a similar story. Donegal’s tactics are not all that different to Kildare’s. They get back in numbers, they turn over ball and they counter with both wing-backs expected to have the endurance of a marathon runner and the pace of a sprinter.
Frank McGlynn and Anthony Thompson both scored in Ballybofey from the five and seven positions, Ollie Lyons kicked three points from the same area in Portlaoise. But crucially, both sides who are both in the top six in the nation made their opponents look unfit and under prepared. Donegal were so superior that it was said in commentary their opponents looked out of shape. And they were, relatively.
It’s little surprise that all of the All Ireland contenders are built from the same mould. Two weekends ago we saw Cork bludgeon Kerry to death with Paudie Kissane the greatest example of their ability to cover the pitch like a basketball team covers the court.
They defend together, succeed by winning the ball back and then attack together where they again succeed by scoring. Three weekends ago it was a similar story when we witnessed what Dublin did to Louth. And this weekend coming we’ll see it once more when Leitrim won’t be able to live with the physicality and system used by the Mayo footballers.
There was a time where you could pump up the little guy just enough so that he could topple giants. In the modern-day game though, the little guy is just that and will remain that until he learns from the biggest and the best.
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