Oisin McConville: Monaghan are the Chicago Bulls of GAA
I have long been a big fan of the Chicago Bulls basketball team.
Their flamboyant style, all-round athleticism and unerring accuracy never fail to impress me.
Indeed, basketball as a sport holds special appeal for me because of its inherent skills and constant momentum.
Yet never for a moment did I ever envisage that I would see some of the aspects of that particular sport replicated in gaelic football — until now, that is.
As I watched the Ulster final between Donegal and Monaghan unfurl, I became more and more convinced that gaelic football and basketball now have more in common than ever.
In Clones last Sunday, we watched both games engage in what appeared to be interminable hand-passing, often at the expense of conceding territory, and place a strong emphasis on zonal defence to restrict the opposition.
For me, this underlined how rooted our football has become in repetitive passing which, while it ensures a retention of possession, more often than not fails to yield anything in terms of piercing a defensive cordon never mind proving the precursor to grabbing a score.
Yet on the rather infrequent occasions on which both sides decided to opt for a more adventurous policy, this paid dividends.
When Karl O’Connell landed a first-half point for Monaghan, he did so because his lightning pace took him past the first line of defence and even though there were 14 Donegal players behind the ball on that occasion, O’Connell still managed to hoist his shot over the bar from distance for one of the best scores of the game.
The sustained applause which greeted his effort was an outpouring of relief as much as anything else just as was the thunderous roar that greeted Conor McManus’s point which was engineered out of nothing when Christy Toye was dispossessed by the alert Ryan Wylie deep in one corner of the pitch.
That particular McManus score visibly sent confidence and vibrancy coursing through the Monaghan team — and ended Toye’s participation in the game as he was immediately whipped off by less-than-impressed manager Rory Gallagher. But for the most part tedious, banal, unimaginative hand-passing was the order of the day as the teams ostensibly probed for openings but, to my mind, were more intent on retaining possession for the sake of doing so.
When Donegal, in particular, did manage to escape the clutches of Monaghan’s rugged defenders, their shooting proved woeful on occasions and it was no great surprise to see Colm McFadden and Odhran MacNiallais withdrawn.
To a large extent, Donegal were the authors of their own misfortune. Frank McGlynn and Ryan McHugh might have looked impressive going forward but they ended up going down blind alleys before passing the ball backwards for a movement to start all over again. Monaghan won because they varied their game that little bit more, revealed a welcome desire to shoot from distance and rode their luck in the closing stages when Donegal threatened to pull the game out of the fire.
I believe the current preoccupation with defensive set-ups and players’ reluctance to shoot from longer range because of the fear of missing the target should see perhaps two points awarded for any shots from play which are converted from beyond the 45-metres line.
I think this would help to introduce a greater spirit of resourcefulness and would serve to make players less inhibited.
Even high-quality sides like Donegal and Monaghan were falling into the trap of treating the ball like a hot potato because players did not want to be burdened with the responsibility of having a pop at the opposition posts.
On a day when some of Donegal’s stellar names were below-par, Monaghan ‘unknowns’ such as O’Connell, Ryan Wylie, Dermot Malone and Fintan Kelly stepped up smartly to the plate.
But keep an eye out for both teams in the last eight of the All-Ireland series.
They may yet have a say in the destination of ‘Sam’.