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Peter Canavan: Don't give players room for excuses

By Peter Canavan

Published 17/06/2016

Reaching high: Jim McGuinness has worked wonders with Donegal
Reaching high: Jim McGuinness has worked wonders with Donegal

I see poor Cristiano Ronaldo wasn't happy with Iceland during the week - they wouldn't let him have the ball. As a teacher, I see this kind of thing in the schoolyard every day.

For all his undoubted talents, incredible consistency, and impressive athleticism, I have to say Ronaldo gets my goat when he starts bleating like this.

I watched the match and I was really taken with the way Iceland set about their task. I won't pretend to know their manager's name, but it was easy to see that he's not short on communication skills. His players - to my eye anyway - carried out his instructions brilliantly. Even after falling behind, they stuck to the game plan and ultimately got their reward with a 1-1 draw.

Someone should put a few salient facts in front of Portugal's star man - for a start, the two countries' respective populations are worth noting: Portugal 10.46m; Iceland 323,000 and just to put the figure into context, the city of Belfast has about 10,000 more people living in it. Well done Iceland - catch yourself on Cristiano.

Ronaldo wasn't the only one blinded this week by his own arrogance and ignorant to his shortcomings. I was astonished to see South Africa's rugby coach come out with a similar whinge after his side's loss to what was a very brave Ireland team in Cape Town. He claimed Ireland "weren't interested in playing" and that "all they did was make it as difficult as possible for us".

To come out with such nonsense after his team had played with an extra man for 60 minutes (and with two extra men for ten of those minutes) took sore losing to new depths. What did he honestly expect Joe Schmidt to do: send out a team that wasn't going to make "life difficult" for the opposition?

The aim of the manager in any team sport is to win, and to carry out that goal he must try to ensure his players play the game on their terms. A manager will look at all kinds of training methods and tactical systems to achieve that, but first and foremost, he must adhere to the golden rule of management - a prime example of that is Jim McGuinness and Donegal. He sized up the players at his disposal, looked at what approach would best suit them, and then applied the next two golden rules - trust your players and get the players to trust you.

So that's what Jim set about from his first day in charge. He instantly recognised that a short-passing style was something that his players were comfortable with - when you're playing club games on the north-west coast of the country and weathering strong Atlantic breezes, delivering the long ball can leave you in the lap of the elements. Donegal teams were already used to passing it and moving; Jim used that tradition, looked at how it could be enhanced and developed it to suit his players.

Of course, it took a while to get the game plan right and there were plenty of bumps along the road. However, Jim believed in what he was doing and, crucially, he got the players to buy in also.

Everyone remembers the controversial 2011 All-Ireland semi-final against Dublin. The overload of defence and near-absence of offence provoked a storm of criticism. Some pundits claimed it was the death of football as we know it, but, despite seeing his team lose on a 0-8 to 0-6 scoreline, the manager was defiant in the face of the hysteria.

What's more was the players saw him backing them to the hilt and, ultimately, this made them a tighter unit, propelling them to the big prize the following year.

It's worth referencing Donegal as Galway head to Castlebar tomorrow evening for a game in which they will start long-priced underdogs against Mayo.

Kevin Walsh (below) was an outstanding midfielder in an outstanding Galway team who were brilliant exponents of the county's traditional no-nonsense, direct style of football.

Now, as Galway manager against one of best teams that Mayo has produced in the last 50 years, he will know that attempting to play such a brand of football is tantamount to giving their opponents a ticket to the Connacht final.

When I weigh up the resources at his disposal, I don't envy his task - coming up with something to make "life difficult" for Mayo will not be easy. And you only have to look at their results in Division 2 of the league to see how they have struggled for form. Their last competitive win was back in February against Derry. Against that, Walsh has had plenty time to assess the situation as it has been 11 weeks since their last league outing - a four-point defeat to Cavan - and eight months since the draw was made, so it will be interesting to see what he comes up with.

One positive sign is that his first sideline encounter with Mayo last year at least restored some pride to Galway football. A team that lost by 17 points to their great rivals in 2013 served it up to Mayo, entering the half-time dressing room on level terms before losing by four.

Flooding the defence must be an option for the Galway manager, but only he will know if his players are capable of doing this and hitting Mayo on the counter.

Flooding the defence to ridiculously high levels is what Terry Hyland was accused of in his early days with Cavan. Now in his fifth season at the helm, Hyland has evolved the Cavan game-plan into containing a strong attacking element.

Michael Argue, Eugene Keating and Gearoid McKiernan are strong ball-winners who give Hyland an option to act as target men, while the return of Seanie Johnston to the set-up has helped increase the threat closer to goal. At the other end of the field, full-back Killian Clarke has taken extra responsibility on his shoulders and Conor Moynagh has grown into the sweeper role. However, my vote for Sunday goes to Tyrone. I believe they are the better team, and if they do run into problems, Mickey Harte can call on a far more potent bench.

Against Derry the first day, Darren McCurry and Padraig McNulty didn't start, and neither did four All-Ireland winning U-21s from last year: Kieran McGeary; Frank Burns; Lee Brennan; and Paudie Hampsey. Throw in the fact that Mickey now has four other influential players back in the reckoning from injury - the McMahons, Joe and Justin, Ronan McNabb and Conor Meyler - and that considerable strength-in-depth gives him a strong hand.

Tyrone to win by five or six points.

Belfast Telegraph

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