I had the privilege of assisting with the development of the Galway U20 footballers over the past few months. Our squad mantra was very simple: the players would endeavour to improve in every session. Our manager, Pádraic Joyce, picked no selectors. Instead, he opted for coaches.
Each coach was asked to add something positive to the development of our young players. We had a duty to provide the best coaching with a positive attitude via correct communication. We coached using demonstrations and explanations. Different types and tones of feedback were offered and coaches were heard in the Loughgeorge training fields, hustling and praising aspiring stars.
We played both Cork and Dublin — who contest today’s U20 final — in the wonderful pre-championship competition, The John Kerins Cup.
The immediate impression both teams made on me was their sheer physicality. They both have powerful, athletic and tall young men. Cork boast slightly more than Dublin in the latter category. Both teams can play beautiful one-touch football, tally big scores and move like sprinters.
They both play expansive football without much fear of making mistakes. They back themselves to prevail in tight situations and possess a high calibre of skilled footballers with Ciarán Archer top of the Dublin pyramid.
He ticks all the boxes required for the best forwards. He knows how to score, especially goals, in many different ways. His two goals against Galway were sublime. The first, when shadowed by three defenders, showcased his swift feet and the second showed his determination to ‘skin a man’ and execute a clinical finish from a tight angle.
Wearing my Galway hat, these were shockingly poor goals to concede and Cork will have noted that none of our players got a decent tackle on Archer for those strikes. Cork have two excellent man-marking corner-backs (Michael O’Mahoney and Paul Ring) who showcased the art of one v one defending brilliantly against Kerry in the Munster final. I expect Ring to tag Archer and he’ll have plenty of help from Clon’s Maurice Shanley.
Archer will score this afternoon, but if the Cork defence can keep him to a half-dozen points, then they have a great platform for victory.
Cork have been very disciplined in their tackling and have only given a handful of scoreable frees en route to this final.
This trend must continue for Keith Ricken’s men as Dublin will run at them like gazelles, hunting for frees for Archer to convert.
Dublin will play with a forward triangle — Ross McGarry at the tip and Archer/Brian O’Leary inside. They love lots of space and this is effectively afforded to them by the fruitful wanderings of their hard-working half-forward line. I expect Cork to deny this space to Dublin by leaving their captain, Peter O’Driscoll, in the centre-back pocket.
The midfield battle will be no place for the faint-hearted with bodies flying into breaking ball scrimmages.
The potential midfield duel of Peadar Ó Cofaigh Byrne (Cuala & UCD) v Brian Hartnett (Douglas & UCC) will be gripping.
I say battlefield as I can’t envisage that Cork will allow the Dublin netminder, David O’Hanlon, to get any Cluxtonite restarts off, as is his preference.
The Na Fianna keeper is brilliant at short kick-outs. They have a lovely rehearsed move. Both half-backs sprint towards their goalkeeper for the short ball whilst both cornerbacks simultaneously sprint up the flanks to the wing back positions. Any hesitation or slackness from the Cork forwards and O’Hanlon will find his onrushing half-backs. If that option is covered, he has the corner-backs in position for a pinged kickout to the half-back line. If they don’t get the kickout directly, they’re waiting for a simple tap-down from their midfielders or half-forwards who are all moving in sync.
Man-on-man is the best way for Cork to compete against the Dublin kick-out but any Rebel siesta and Dublin will have the ball in the scoring zone in seconds. Can Cork get joy from attacking the Dublin restart? They can, because they can match Dublin’s physicality and mobility. What’s more, they have the forwards to score heavily. Cork have a special archer of their own, in Mitchelstown’s Cathal O’Mahony. The Mary I student is a dinger and oozes confidence. He has the free-taking nous of a Colin Corkery and the wizardry skills of a Dinny Allen. A lot will rest on O’Mahony’s shoulders to get this Cork team motoring, who to date, are playing with the spirit of famous sides from the past. Fifteen different clubs make up this Cork team. The sum of those parts could be the difference.