PADDY HEANEY: Modern managers have left us all playing catch-up

Match programmes also need to change. The neat diagrams displaying teams in a 6-2-6 formation belong with the bishops throwing in the ball

DONEGAL: Paul Durcan; Paddy McGrath, Neil McGee (0-1), Declan Walsh; Anthony Thompson, Karl Lacey, Frank McGlynn (0-1); Rory Kavanagh (0-3), Neil Gallagher (0-1); Ryan Bradley, Mark McHugh (0-2), David Walsh; Colm McFadden (1-6, 1-0 penalty, 0-5 frees), Paddy McBrearty, Leo McLoone.

Above is the Donegal team and scorers from Sunday’s preliminary round game in the Ulster SFC.

Outlined in the time-honoured fashioned, this is how it would have appeared in every national newspaper in the country.

Note how the beloved semi-colon (;) is used to segregate the players into the orthodox line-up of goalkeeper, three full-backs, three half-backs, two midfielders, three half-forwards and three full-forwards.

Yes. I know. It’s absolutely crazy. The notion that Donegal lined out in this manner is patently absurd. And yet, we in the media persist with our archaic ways.

There was controlled pandemonium in the press box as we tried to shoehorn the Donegal and Cavan teams into the conventional format. It was, of course, an utterly pointless exercise, yet we insist on presenting teams in a manner that is completely redundant.

Maybe there is a forlorn hope that things will go back to the way they were. But that ship has sailed.

All the whining, crying, and complaining about the blanket defence and ceaseless fist-passing has failed. The modern manager is not going to conform to our romantic demands for six defenders, two midfielders and six forwards.

Anyway, think about it. Why would Donegal contemplate making any changes? Despite the absence of their captain and best player, they strolled into Breffni Park and chalked up 1-16 without breaking a sweat.

And let’s not kid ourselves. Donegal aren’t the only ones. They’re just the biggest scapegoats. Nearly every county team defends with 13 men. The new-look Tyrone side that stormed through Division 2 is virtually identical. When Kerry tried to defend their lead in the league semi-final, they also had more than a dozen men behind the ball. On Sunday, Galway’s forward line included two midfielders and two defenders.

The constant moaning about the damnation of the game’s aesthetics is a waste of breath. What we need to do is accept the new order and confront the challenge of finding effective methods to convey what is actually happening on the pitch.

The semi-colons are the first things that need to be scrapped. If a team is playing with 10 defenders, then why do newspapers present a fallacy of the truth? The Donegal team listed at the start is a work of fiction. It never happened. Mark McHugh didn’t play at centre half-forward. In fact, Donegal don’t have a half-forward line. They have two half-back lines.

We need to stop presenting these falsehoods. We need to come up with new ideas. Anything would be an improvement on the current farce.

One proposal would be simply designate players as defenders, midfielders and forwards. A player’s position would be based on an arbitrary decision on where he spent most of the game.

Using this method, the Donegal team from Sunday would look like this: Goalkeeper: Paul Durcan; Defenders: Paddy McGrath, Neil McGee (0-1), Declan Walsh, Mark McHugh (0-2), Anthony Thompson, Karl Lacey, Frank McGlynn (0-1), Ryan Bradley, Leo McLoone (0-2), David Walsh; Midfielders: Neil Gallagher (0-1), Rory Kavanagh (0-3); Forwards: Colm McFadden (1-6, 1-0 penalty, 0-5 frees), Paddy McBrearty.

That simple change already provides a much clearer idea of what took place in Breffni Park.

Donegal defended in huge numbers, but still succeeded in getting men forward as their defenders and midfielders racked up 10 points from play.

Match programmes also need to change. The neat diagrams displaying teams in a 6-2-6 formation belong with the bishops throwing in the ball.

The GAA community also needs to come up with a new vocabulary. As yet, we have no word to describe the role fulfilled by the dogsbody ‘half-forward’ who plays everywhere except in the attack. They could be called ‘phantom forwards’, as only a few people ever see them.

Further down the line, the All Star selection committee might need to revise its criteria. Again, three full-backs and three half-backs harkens back to a long, lost era.

If Mark McHugh continues in his current vein of form, he could very well become the game’s first All Star ‘sweeper’. On Sunday, McHugh scored two points while operating from the full-back line. But what position would McHugh be allocated in an All Star team? He’s a defender who doesn’t mark, and a forward who doesn’t play in the forward line? Not even the removal of a semi-colon can solve that puzzle.

* p.heaney@irishnews.com


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