Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 September 2014

McIver bold move can inspire Derry

Derry's Eoin Bradley was taken off in final as Derry pushed for win
Derry's Eoin Bradley was taken off in final as Derry pushed for win

On Sunday, Eoin Bradley was called off the field by Derry manager Brian McIver after 58 minutes of the Division Two final.

A couple of hours later, during the Division One final, Dublin manager Jim Gavin sprang Dean Rock from the bench to replace Bernard Brogan, also on 58 minutes.

Emmett McGuckian replaced Bradley and after settling into the game, scored 1-1 in the 73rd and 74th minutes to seal the title for Derry.

Rock wriggled into a space somewhere between big hitters Sean Cavanagh and Matthew Donnelly to swing over a point on 67 minutes, and three minutes later profited from Kevin McManamon's tenacity to hit his second and put Dublin a point up.

Both managers were lauded for their bravery in replacing marquee players, but they were sending out a subtle and firm message before the Championship.

It is not the fault of a team's star forward, but there are enough examples to suggest that instilling confidence across the squad is a vital aspect of coaching.

Consider this example. From 2000 to 2002, Fermanagh's Rory Gallagher was the leading scorer in the Ulster Championship, despite not even making it to the provincial final once.

When he did not commit to the county for the 2003 season, many felt that Fermanagh would regress.

Instead, his cousin Raymie Gallagher made the switch from finisher at the apex of the attack to becoming a creator at centre-forward.

They reached the All-Ireland quarter-final and beat stellar names along the way.

Was Rory Gallagher Fermanagh's best player at the time?

Unquestionably, and perhaps among the best five players to ever line out for the county. But there was an over-reliance on him, crudely characterised by his dropping back to take free-kicks in his own half.

That approach encourages bad habits of 'social loafing', where everyone's workrate drops incrementally, causing a systems failure.

Here is another example. In 2010, Bernard Brogan was having a dream year and won the Player of the Year award. Yet Dublin won nothing, not even a Leinster.

One year later and Brogan was misfiring in the Leinster final against Wexford. He was taken off for David Henry.

Up in the commentary gantry, analyst Liam Hayes was puzzled by Pat Gilroy's judgement.

"In my view, you don't take off Bernard Brogan, ever," the Meath man said.

Yet in the next three games, Brogan averaged five points as Dublin won the All-Ireland. The substitution was exactly what the team, and Brogan, needed.

When a team are going poorly, over-reliance on shooters can be crippling.

How many times have we watched Derry exit a Championship when they began to panic coming into the last quarter, before raining in a series of Hail Mary balls in Paddy Bradley's general postcode.

That over-reliance on one individual is a trap that many fall into.

In the early years of Pelé's exciting time with New York Cosmos, his main bugbear with team mates was them constantly feeding him the ball, ignoring the basic principles of team play.

In time, the addition of names such as Carlos Alberto, Chinaglia and Beckenbauer would change that.

In 'Sacred Hoops', the book that doubles as the manifesto of legendary basketball coach Phil Jackson, he offers an insight into what he calls the 'Jordan Problem' in a chapter titled 'Selflessness in Action', about getting Michael Jordan to become integrated within the Chicago Bulls team, rather than being the 'go-to man'.

"Whenever he touched the ball, everyone in the stadium became transfixed, wondering what he was going to do next. The problem was that Jordan's teammates were often just as enchanted as the fans ... when push came to shove, the other players usually faded into the background and waited for Michael to perform another miracle. Unfortunately, this mode of attack ... was so one-dimensional the better defensive teams had little difficulty shutting it down," he writes.

Later, within a lengthy explanation of changing the attack, Jackson writes: "The answer, in Tex Winters' mind, was a continuous-motion offence involving everybody on the floor."

In Gaelic football, the best teams now have other means of getting scores in the critical last quarter.

Quite apart from being brave enough to summon Eoin Bradley to the bench, McIver has altered and tweaked Derry's approach and they are a much better team for it.

Discounting the five panel members who made just one substitute appearance each over the course of the National League, of the 24 outfield players McIver used in the league, 22 of them scored. That's a phenomenal figure that demonstrates the balance of their scoring threat.

Derry have been blessed with fabulously-skilled footballers, always have.

But now the need to knit them together is the only way to progress.

The penny has dropped.

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