Many coaches in sports these days talk about just being ‘figureheads’ for large management groups and facilitating the players’ efforts to improve and succeed as a team.
Successful teams will often talk about a culture where many decisions, both on and off the pitch, are made by the players.
But some days good managers will know that maybe the answers aren’t coming from the guys inside the white lines of battle and it is time for them to step up to the plate.
At half-time yesterday in Croke Park, Dublin led Westmeath 0-7 to 0-6 after a competitive opening half. Fans wondered at the break if the closeness of the final was due to Westmeath’s efforts or a below par performance from the champions.
In the bowels of the Hogan Stand, Tom Cribben would have been very positive with his players. The double sweeper was limiting the Dublin full-forward line, his half-forwards and midfield were tracking runners and forcing Dublin into slow, laboured attacking moves.
Along with picking off six points they also looked dangerous with a couple of long direct balls on top of the Dublin full-back line while Westmeath’s physicality and aggressiveness in the tackle was frustrating some of their opponents.
The message from Cribben would have been for more of the same from his troops.
While ‘more of the same’ sounds achievable, it is often very much reliant on your opponents continuing to stick to their existing gameplan.
This is where Jim Gavin and his management team looked to mix things up.
With James McCarthy absent through injury, Dublin were missing a direct runner and someone to dictate the pace of the game from their half-back line.
To correct this imbalance, Eric Lowndes was taken off and Paddy Andrews introduced. It as a bold, attacking move on paper — a full-forward for a wing back.
Westmeath’s system meant one of the Dublin wing-backs had a relatively free role from a defensive viewpoint. In the rejig Ciarán Kilkenny lined up at half-back and was given the responsibility of taking the game to Westmeath.
The pace and purpose Dublin attacked with at the start of the second half was evident from the moment Bernard Brogan clipped a score inside the first minute. Dublin added four more points in the following seven minutes with Kilkenny directly involved with three of those scores. Dublin then went through the gears and after 58 minutes the scoreboard read 1-17 to 0-8.
A crucial decision from the Dublin management with instant impact and success.
I also saw another very similar example of this on Saturday. I was in Pearse Park for the All-Ireland Qualifier between Cork and Longford where the hosts held a four-point half-time advantage against their struggling southern opponents.
With the wind to come and a solid opening half under their belts there was no doubt the Longford message was ‘more of the same’ for the second half.
However,Cork didn’t oblige with the same first half display. Subs Colm O’Neill and Paddy Kelly changed the shape, football intelligence and quality in the Cork attack and very quickly it was clear that “more of the same” wouldn’t work for the hosts.
In sports such as basketball and American football, coaches have the option of taking a time out to help influence a game and get messages to players.
Our coaches don’t have the same luxury which is what makes the half-time break so critical.
Both Tom Cribben and Denis Connerton would have loved an opportunity to get a short break with their players once those matches restarted in an effort to put a different plan in play.
Dublin will be very aware, as with their other championship performances to date, that they are only playing in patches.
There are periods in games where they are underperforming and with the side of the championship draw stacked the way it is, with a Mayo, Donegal or Cork on the horizon, they’ll also know that more of the same of those periods might bring a sudden end to their back-to-back attempt.
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