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Take note... Kernan and Cross are thriving by sticking to basics

By Declan Bogue

Published 02/12/2015

Prize guy: Crossmaglen’s Paul Heart lifts the Ulster club title
Prize guy: Crossmaglen’s Paul Heart lifts the Ulster club title

With time almost up in the Ulster club final, Scotstown goalkeeper Rory Beggan stood over a free under the main stand in the Athletic Grounds. A successful kick would have surely brought the Seamus McFerran Cup back to north Monaghan.

But with the wind blowing a gale, Beggan's shot tailed too early. Crossmaglen goalkeeper Paul Hearty raced out and punched it out for a '45'. Beggan had a second attempt at a much more advantageous angle. Again, it fell short and the game went to extra-time.

In the final minute of the additional period, Crossmaglen were almost home but Aaron Kernan had a free-kick from the far wing, shooting at the same goals that Beggan had missed. Although the angle was much tighter, Kernan nailed it.

The reason? Nerves. Courage. Skill. Character. Experience. But, equally, a huge dollop of common sense.

Before the game, Crossmaglen warmed up at the Granemore pitch. Most shooting drills take place at the goals closest to the dressing room. But Aaron and his brother Tony (who scored five frees to go along with his 1-1 from play) spent 10 minutes practising frees into the wind at the top goals.

"I was well-versed in it," he told your faithful correspondent on Monday.

"I did the same against Kilcoo because I knew it was windy. We spent a lot of time kicking into the wind because most nights whenever it is windy and you are training, you normally just shoot into the goals that the wind carries."

This clear-headed thinking is the cornerstone of the south Armagh club. They value skills just as much - possibly more - than strategy. That's why we suspect new Mayo manager Stephen Rochford has head-hunted Tony McEntee to be a part of his backroom team.

There is a suspicion that some county managers are guilty of over-complication. When you look at how Scotstown and Crossmaglen produced an incredible spectacle last Sunday by going back to the basics of kick-passing, you see how the lily has been gilded when it comes to the inter-county game.

Even the very idea that county football is superior in any way to club football at this level is an irritant to Kernan.

"I know our club team are prepared like county footballers," he explained.

"They just execute the basic skills well, because that's what they are coached to do. When you get to a higher level I think they just automatically assume that they have the skillset, and they try to coach more complicated stuff.

"We are told you do the simple things well, and that's it. That's what we are coached.

"(County managers) assume a county player has a skillset and they hardly ever focus on that, they focus on other stuff, it's all tactical.

"What are you getting tactical for if you coach boys to play football in the right way and trust them?

"If your defenders can defend and your forwards can score enough, they will win you the game.

"That's what Gaelic football is all about."

The training regime of Crossmaglen is famously simple, with an emphasis on foot-passing. Clearly, Scotstown do something similar, such was their quality this season.

No wonder Jamie Clarke has "the oul heart strings pulled" when he is abroad and thoughts of Cross hit him. Asked if he enjoys playing with his club, he answered: "I definitely am, and especially under the two boys (John McEntee and Oisín McConville), because all we do is play football."

On the theme of over-elaboration, we read and listen to a chasm of spoofing in sport about what a coach considers his 'philosophy'.

Louis van Gaal's Manchester United's attacking strategy last Saturday against Leicester was to confine Anthony Martial and Wayne Rooney to within 10 yards of either sideline. They had three shots on target. One for every half hour. I'd rather stick pins in my eyes than sit through that again.

When United start playing football by numbers with a complete lack of spontaneity, then it would appear that a 'Moneyball' group-think is strangling more than one team sport.

Gaelic football at county level has become a collection of different players who all fit a specific task. Quite often, the result is determined by a refereeing decision anyway and although attendances are on an upward curve, that owes plenty to the success of marketing than the level of entertainment rising.

On the worst day of the year for football, 8,694 souls went along to see two sides play a traditional style. Perhaps this cannot be performed at inter-county level anymore with all the defensive systems, sweepers and range of tactical fouling.

But Mayo, with McEntee involved in their coaching, will be the team to watch in 2016.

Belfast Telegraph

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