Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 26 October 2014

Joe Kernan: Perfect partners key to glory

Stephen O'Neill's understanding with Owen Mulligan can underpin Tyrone's Ulster title bid

There is nothing guaranteed to delight spectators more than stunning individual displays in Championship matches whether they be explosive scoring contributions or lion-hearted defensive resistance.

Equally, it is true to say that nothing affords managers greater satisfaction than seeing their teams offer fluency and cohesion, particularly in attack, implementing what is a carefully-constructed game plan.

Such a plan is invariably the product of many hours hard labour on the training ground and is designed to bring success or at the very least progress in some shape, form or fashion.

The Ulster Championship has offered some scintillating individual performances from players in the four teams which have been in action to date and these have been rightly hailed by all who saw them.

What the Championship has not provided thus far is the level of togetherness and unity in attack that is absolutely essential for any team with aspirations of landing a provincial or even higher honour this year.

Indeed, scoring to date has emanated largely through individual flair and in some cases uncanny accuracy from long distance.

There is currently a preoccupation with the deployment of a target man in the inter-county arena and while this is a laudable concept, it is not quite the straightforward exercise that it is perceived to be.

It is far from humping a ball in the direction of a big, sturdy No 14 and hoping that somehow or other he will do the rest.

All successful sides have been able to boast fluent, smooth-running attacks in general and a hugely effective two-man inside line in particular.

Think of ‘Gooch’ Cooper and Kieran Donaghy, Peter Canavan and Owen Mulligan, Steven McDonnell and Ronan Clarke, James McCartan and Mickey Linden, Michael Murphy and Colm McFadden and you will see where I am coming from.

Nor is the two-man inside line confined to gaelic football. Think of some of the most potent partnerships in soccer — Andy Cole and Dwight Yorke and John Toshack and Kevin Keegan — and it becomes clear just how devastating the right blend can prove.

It is essential in the first instance that the quality of ball coming into the attack in gaelic football — and in particular to the two inside men — is of the highest quality.

Ideally such ball should be played to the outside of a defender thus allowing the attacking player the opportunity to gather it in space.

The most difficult delivery to defend against, of course, is the diagonal kick pass which can often wrong-foot defenders.

But the predictable long ball delivered directly towards the edge of the square is often knocked down by a full-back or corner back and then cleaned up by a supporting wing-back.

That has happened quite often in the current Ulster Championship whereas flowing movements involving all the players in an attack have been few and far between.

Because of the pace of the game and the variety of options open to players, inside men need to have an almost telepathic understanding.

This only comes from considerable experience of playing together, from having an unselfish attitude and from being able to react quickly when certain situations develop.

Dublin’s success in winning the All Ireland title last year owed much to the harmony revealed by the Brogan brothers Alan and Bernard while Cork’s current tactic of playing Aidan Walsh, normally a midfielder, at full-forward is paying dividends because players like Donnacha O’Connor and Colm O’Neill are feeding off him intelligently.

Similarly, Stephen O’Neill and Owen Mulligan along with perhaps Martin Penrose could flourish in the Tyrone attack this summer because of the lengthy time they have been together in the Red Hands side while Down in contrast may be denied the option of using route one this Sunday because Benny Coulter is unavailable.

While the quality of possession is important, slick movement off the ball is vital in terms of the creation of scores.

The more experienced forwards can time their runs to perfection, know exactly when to pull the trigger and can kick scores with either foot, which renders them difficult to police.

Individuality has an important place but fluency within a forward line as a unit can reap rewards on a consistent basis.

Indeed, while certain forwards such as Paul Galvin (Kerry), Danny Hughes (Down), Paddy Kelly (Cork) and Bryan Cullen (Dublin) are noted for their ability to win the ball in difficult, pressurised situations others are renowned finishers.

Yet a penchant for winning ‘dirty’ ball is necessary if any inside line is to thrive.

I would now expect to see greater forward cohesion and better gelling between defence and attacks. Not only will this serve to placate managers but it will also make the football more pleasing as a spectacle.

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