Sunday 17 December 2017

If going for goals only - go to another game: Harte

Tyrone manager Mickey Harte
Tyrone manager Mickey Harte

WHERE lies the soul of Gaelic football?

 That was the general theme of the post-match debate after Tyrone's rewoven defensive blanket almost suffocated the life out of Dublin.

For the record, Jim Gavin has no problem with teams who set up defensively against his recently stymied swashbucklers but, when asked was he ever tempted to join them, his one-word reply said a multitude: "No".

Also for the record, Mickey Harte can't understand all the wailing and gnashing of teeth. "Anybody who is going to Gaelic football to see goals only, maybe they should go to another game," he suggested.

For most of Saturday night, his Tyrone side essentially played with one inside forward, ferried 14 men back the field and, when the chance presented itself, sought to counter at speed. And, for most of Saturday night, faced with this GAA version of park-the-bus, Dublin struggled to figure it out.

"We experienced something similar, not to that extent, in the last eight to ten minutes last week (in Kerry) when quite a defensive wall went up as well. And the same against Cork," Gavin recounted.

"Teams are doing it and it's great to experience it. Sometimes you've got to go through a choppy sea to improve. It's great for the players, great for the management, there is great learning in it."

Was he surprised how, in year two of the black card era, the game has reverted once more to a defensive template?

"Am I surprised? No. It's up to each coach and management team to make a decision how they want to play … there is no right or wrong way to play. It's fascinating to be involved in the middle of it. It's a great challenge for coaches."

But is it fascinating for the public? "I wouldn't think so."

He expanded: "It's about holding onto possession or not conceding territory. Gaelic football has evolved that way. It might come back again, but managers are playing under the rules and the players are playing under the rules. Whether it's pretty on the eye … the counties who win the All-Irelands and win the cups, they don't mind."

Gavin has long made it clear that this is not his way of playing. Harte, though, has re-embraced it with relish.

"I like to see difference in the game," he maintained. "I like to see quality defending. People don't give defenders credit for defending with discipline."

He then drew comparison with Premier League soccer, asking: "How often do teams have everybody behind the ball there, make a break and get scores? I don't see why it should be any different in Gaelic games … I think that's entertaining when people break from the back at pace, with control, and get good scores." But what about Bored Senseless Joe Public?

"Who ever said that people only come to see goals? Goals are just one aspect of the game. Sure it's nice when we see them from time to time.

"There are many other aspects of our game worth watching. I don't think the people out there were very disappointed at all. I think they must have been very happy."

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