Shrewd coaches have upset odds
Prior to a Saturday screening of the 1941 classic film, 'Citizen Kane', there was a most enjoyable collage of television appearances featuring director Orson Welles – who was 24 at the time he directed what is commonly accepted as a cinematic masterpiece.
Welles was the ideal chat-show host. Big voice, big cigars, big unit, big personality, generous to interviewers.
This is the man who fled the stifling confines of Harvard University for a summer to travel to Galway. There, he hired a donkey and trap and made his way to Connemara.
By day, he would travel the stark landscape, capturing it on canvas and oils. At night, he would tether the beast and sleep in the trap.
He blagged a lead role in the Gaiety Theatre by landing backstage and telling all and sundry that he was a 'big star' in Hollywood, on vacation in Ireland.
When you got nothin', as Dylan would point out, you got nothin' to lose.
Citizen Kane's camerawork was seen as revolutionary.
That was due in a large part to what Welles called his 'ignorance.' He thought a camera should be able to capture the images he could see in his mind's eye and together with the cameraman, they stumbled upon new techniques.
Welles said that his cameraman was an absolute expert in his field, and like all master craftsmen, would point out that there was nothing you could not learn about his chosen trade in half a day.
The same goes for discussion of Gaelic football tactics. For a sport that likes to imagine there is a sophisticated tactical awareness, there are still a surprising number of 'take the door off the hinges' merchants out there.
Still, who would want to stand in their shoes? When managers get it wrong they can be lampooned mercilessly in the GAA. When journalists call a preview wrong, a few notice, but not many.
The basic tenets of previewing a match is to weigh up recent form, look at possible injuries (and in this instance it's always better to suspend disbelief as some players make miraculous recoveries prior to Championship matches) and take into account the motive of the opposing teams.
It is a newspaper practice to print teams on a Friday before a big match, but this has become a folksy habitual relic. County teams in Ulster rarely line out the names they name, with a particular favourite replacement being that of a defender for a forward. So discount the team you might have heard.
Then take your theories and test them out with others. They may think completely different. One media colleague last week was adamant that Tyrone would beat Monaghan because they had better attacking talent. That theory may have its place in other provinces, but not in Ulster.
The 'marquee forward' theory is pointless up north. Commentators have a particular fascination with this one, believing that if a team has what they deem to be a marquee forward, they will always beat one they judge to be without.
In successive weekends I have heard one prominent pundit say that Mayo – who have contested the last two All-Ireland finals and have Cillian O'Connor as the Young Player of the Year for two successive summers – and Ulster champions Monaghan (with the incredible Conor McManus) have no 'marquee forwards.'
It seems that the only genuine forwards deserving of this term, according to their criteria, are Michael Murphy – when played in the full-forward line – and Bernard Brogan.
Even the likes of a genius like Diarmuid Connolly, who scores heavily, is too much of a creator and plays too deep to be anything other than a playmaker, rather than a predator.
But consider this – in 2012, Frank McGlynn, a defender by trade, scored more than Michael Murphy from play during Donegal's successful Ulster campaign.
In his last eight games, Monaghan defender Fintan Kelly has scored from play in six of them.
Sunday's game also brought an end to Dessie Mone's scoring run of six successive games, although he won frees that were converted.
Those that have examined the patterns of Gaelic football are the coaches that are achieving most in the game.
How else do you explain Jim McGuinness turning Donegal into All-Ireland champions, or Malachy O'Rourke turning a Monaghan team from a side that won four games in two years into Ulster champions, beating the reigning Ulster and All-Ireland champions in the final?
To paraphrase Welles, tactical awareness is a skill that can be taught and learned in half a day. But clearly, those with the knowledge guard it closely.