The winner may be team who can go off the script

The winner may be team who can go off the script
Kerry’s David Clifford and Ciarán Kilkenny of Dublin shake hands prior to the drawn All-Ireland SFC final. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile.

Replay, what replay?

At the elite level of sport, there is no such thing as a replay, as the thinking will be that the next day is a brand new day with fresh challenges.

Any self-respecting coach, as both Jim Gavin and Peter Keane are, will wipe the slate clean and start afresh to build a strategy for Saturday’s 6pm throw-in for their All-Ireland final.

No doubt, the strategy for this week’s action will be influenced from time-to-time with information from the first day out, but neither manager will be lulled into a false sense of security that what happened on day one is any indication of what will happen on day two.

The brilliant spectacle that was the drawn game on September 1 owes a lot to the strategies both teams were schooled in prior to 3.30pm.

They were allowed the licencse to play what was in front of them as the need arose.

The unpredictable plays that both sets of forwards ran time-after-time, contributed to the 10 yellow cards that referee David Gough dished out, and yet scarcely a word would’ve been mentioned to either team from their coaching staff about minding their tackling on Saturday next.

Even the change in referee to Conor Lane will do nothing to impact the intensity the match-ups will hit this weekend.

You can’t tell a back not to foul his opposite number, no way, that is a recipe for disaster, as the one word that will resonate in their heads will be ‘foul’.

Instead, we can expect players like Jonny Cooper and Michael Fitzsimons from Dublin and Tadhg Morley and Gavin Crowley from Kerry to be told to keep doing what they’re doing; tackle strong, impose yourself, disrupt at all times, among other action-oriented phrases.

Let’s take Jonny Cooper for instance, a man who lost his individual battle the last day against David Clifford. He may want another crack off the Fossa man, but no one should be surprised if he is deployed elsewhere.

Regardless of who he marks - he may be on Paul Geaney, for example, Cooper will not be changing his style because of what happened previously, and neither will he be told to.

The same can said for Geaney, who no one expected would be kept scoreless the last day.

Panic buttons will not pressed on a player who rightfully has a reputation as one of the best forwards of his generation.

Between games, there will have been no forensic analysis of his shooting skills resulting in a training prescription of hundreds of additional shots on goal - for the simple reason that there is no issue.

A player of his calibre doesn’t forget, in one game, where the back of the goal is or how to find the black spot.

By the same token, just because Jack McCaffrey and Sean O’Shea had towering performances for Dublin and Kerry respectively last Sunday week, it does not assure them another talismanic showing on Saturday evening.

The tactics for the players assigned to both of those men may not even change in the interim period.

James McCarthy’s likely redeployment on Sean O’Shea may have benefited from some bespoke video analysis on the precocious Kerry man, but again it is unlikely to be anything different to what he knew beforehand.

The moment he thinks he has the young man’s number because of some pre-determined plan will be the moment Dublin get hurt on the scoreboard once again.

The same can be said for the mammoth task that lies ahead for Kerry’s Gavin White, should he lock horns with Dublin’s Jack McCaffrey once again.

This is not to suggest that there is no place for tactics in Gaelic football or any sport for that matter, and that teams should just arrive and play off the cuff and figure things out as they go along.

‘Action plan profiles’ is the term in coach education that speaks to preparatory work done by coaches with their players to ready them for potential plays that may occur during a match.

Coaches, players and their collective teams have patterns of behaviour that suggest tendencies of play in certain circumstances. Opposition teams need to have their homework done on these behaviours and tendencies, as they are the actions that often appear under pressure and time-constrained stress, like the closing minutes of an All-Ireland final.

So, by all means, have rehearsed plays that work to your team’s strengths, such as the on-the-shoulder off-loads to release a player at speed into the ‘D’, and rehearsed simulations that reflect what the opposition normally do in one instance or another, such as their kick-out strategy.

But there also needs to be room for the ‘current event profiles’, the other term in coach education that speaks to tactics. These are the plays that have no heading on them and do not fit neatly into a game-strategy.

Quality teams like Dublin and Kerry have quality coaches working with quality players who can go off the script to unlock a tight encounter in the blink of an eye. But they also have the ability to respond to the unexpected.

This part of training is just as vital as the pre-planned and rehearsed plays, but in most cases, it is the least attended to, if at all.

However, both Dublin and Kerry show signs that they have the balance right in their preparations, as was evident in the stalemate a fortnight ago.

This may be where the winning and losing of Saturday is decided. It may come down to the team who is more adept at going off-script, which is a skill that comes with experience.

Between these two teams, Dublin are out in front in that regard, if only marginally, both in their starting 15 and the cavalry coming off the bench.

That the advantage is marginal says a lot about the ground this Kerry team have made up under the new stewardship of Peter Keane.

Maybe it will boil down to the team better at responding to such chaotic moments. Which again would encourage one to lean towards Dublin, if only for how they dealt with being a man down for over 40 minutes the last day.

But whatever can be said about this rematch, predictions are largely a waste of time, which tells you all you need to know about what we can expect come 6pm on Saturday.

One thing for sure is that both teams will have ample reasons to feel they are in a better place this time around.

The ebb and flow of the 70-plus minutes will hopefully test these teams to their limit once again and any suggestion of a one-sided affair will be put to bed in the early exchanges.

What the drawn game told us was that either team would be a worthy winner.


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