Belfast Telegraph

Monday 20 October 2014

Armagh need sweeping changes to have a chance in Championship

Ulster GAA Football Senior Championship Preliminary Round, Kingspan Breffini Park, Co. Cavan 19/5/2013
Cavan vs Armagh
Cavan's Niall McDermott and Mark Shields of Armagh
Mandatory Credit ?INPHO/Ryan Byrne
Ulster GAA Football Senior Championship Preliminary Round, Kingspan Breffini Park, Co. Cavan 19/5/2013 Cavan vs Armagh Cavan's Niall McDermott and Mark Shields of Armagh Mandatory Credit ?INPHO/Ryan Byrne
Ulster GAA Football Senior Championship Preliminary Round, Kingspan Breffini Park, Co. Cavan 19/5/2013
Cavan vs Armagh
Cavan's Cian Mackey celebrates scoring the first goal of the game 
Mandatory Credit ?INPHO/Ryan Byrne
Ulster GAA Football Senior Championship Preliminary Round, Kingspan Breffini Park, Co. Cavan 19/5/2013 Cavan vs Armagh Cavan's Cian Mackey celebrates scoring the first goal of the game Mandatory Credit ?INPHO/Ryan Byrne
Ulster Senior Football Championship 2013 Preliminary Round, Kingspan Breffini Park, Co. Cavan 19/5/2013
Cavan vs Armagh
Cavan and Armagh players come to blows early in the game
Mandatory Credit ?INPHO/Morgan Treacy
Ulster Senior Football Championship 2013 Preliminary Round, Kingspan Breffini Park, Co. Cavan 19/5/2013 Cavan vs Armagh Cavan and Armagh players come to blows early in the game Mandatory Credit ?INPHO/Morgan Treacy

At some stage of their Championship preparations, every manager will have to decide whether they will play a sweeper or not.

Not only is a sweeper one of the most accepted tactics in Gaelic football, it has also made its way into hurling with the way Anthony Daly sets up the Dublin team.

There can be an over dependence on the sweeper system and you will see the very top teams moving away from this to have something altogether more fluid both in getting forward and back.

At Breffni Park, Armagh's decision to go without, cost them the game. No question.

What was most surprising about it was that something was going wrong for them yet they stuck rigidly to it.

It wasn't a good game of football but I believe that pre-match favourites Armagh played into Cavan's hands.

It was apparent from early on that Eugene Keating and Martin Dunne had the measure of the Armagh full-back line.

Dunne may have missed a few frees but that didn't take away from his confidence with eight superb points from play – but all without a glove being laid on him.

There are two types of sweeper, an offensive one and a defensive one.

I played as a defensive one last year in the Championship against Donegal and my sole job was to win ball coming in and lay it off.

At no time was I to push forward.

Armagh would have benefited greatly by employing such tactics yesterday as Dunne and Keating got possession far too easily and strangled the defence with it.

Playing as a sweeper isn't as easy as people make out though.

How good you are depends on the players out the field.

They have to be putting pressure on the ball coming in and if they do that, you can look like someone who is two steps ahead of the flow of the game.

In their backline, Cavan had their homework done with Alan Clarke blotting out the threat of Jamie Clarke and it worked a treat for them.

It was obvious that he was going to be the target of most of the ball played in by Armagh and when that was cut off the Orchard county didn't have a plan B.

Tactically I felt that the young Cavan side were miles ahead with Keating playing a key role as well by alternating between the full-forward line and midfield.

Cian Mackey played a key role as he came deep to win possession and at times Ciaran McKeever didn't know whether to go with him or stay back and that cost Armagh a goal when he burst through the heart of their defence.

As a defender, your first duty is to defend and that didn't happen here.

Fergal Flanagan was also deployed to do a man marking job on Aaron Kernan and he did it very well, with Kernan managing to only get into attacking positions in the closing stages of the game, although he appeared to be hampered with an early knock.

A youthful Cavan side were a lot sharper than their opponents and I have to say that Armagh bore little resemblance to the team of grit and determination that I would have associated with them down through the years.

Cavan will go into the derby quarter-final with Fermanagh in a confident frame of mind although I can't see Peter (Canavan) making the same mistakes.

He will have his homework done, with Ryan McCluskey operating as a sweeper against them, and a speedy corner-back such as John Woods picking up Dunne, with possibly Barry Owens on Keating.

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