Much has been made of defensive systems and tactics in Gaelic football in recent weeks and how they affect teams who want to play open, attacking football.
One thing that isn’t up for debate, no matter what system a team plays, they are never more vulnerable than after being turned over.
There were 28 scores in yesterday’s game, with 19 from open play. Of those, 12 came after a turnover in the same play. The two goals scored in open play also came from turnovers.
There’s a simple reason for the high percentage of scores from turnovers: when a team is attacking and committing bodies forward, it is very difficult to transition quickly back into a solid defensive setup, so this leaves more spaces and options for the team now on the attack.
Donegal are masters at scoring off turnovers in recent years, preying on teams committing men forward and not being able to retreat quickly enough to slow the likes of Lacey and the McHughs.
Kerry dealt with this threat in last year’s final by playing a similar defensive system where defenders held their shape rather than follow their men. There were signs of this again. Killian Young intercepted cross-field balls just by holding his wing-back position.
Kerry gave themselves a solid platform around the middle third, where Anthony Maher and David Moran were again ably assisted by Johnny Buckley, who is continuing his development into a high-level wing-forward who can contribute on kick-outs, breaking ball and combine a scoring touch with aggressive tackling and turnovers.
While Donegal’s style was similar to what we were used to seeing under Jim McGuinness, they weren’t as defensive as in previous years and didn’t retreat the same number of bodies inside their own 45. Rory Gallagher also appeared happier to leave Michael Murphy on the edge of the square for longer periods, rather than deploy him in a withdrawn role. Donegal aimed a number of long balls towards Murphy, but Mark Griffin competed very well in what was an interesting duel.
Nine scores yesterday did come from placed balls with Bryan Sheehan and Michael Murphy giving a masterclass in distance kicking from the ground.
With free takers of their calibre on the pitch, teams know they must be disciplined anywhere inside 50 metres. Both nailed kicks from well outside the 45s. Sheehan also slotted one from his ‘wrong’ side and but for an injury which forced him off at half- time, would likely have added to his tally.
Kerry have been accused of taking the league lightly. While they are still missing key men and have at times dropped the level of performance (Cork last week), they will likely reach a league semi-final. Another chance to try make turnovers the game-changers they have developed into.
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