Tuesday 23 January 2018

Roche's Point: Too much caution is not just boring - it's self-defeating

Offaly forward Niall McNamee. Photo: Sportsfile
Offaly forward Niall McNamee. Photo: Sportsfile

The seemingly never-ending saga that is Diarmuid Connolly's disciplinary travails was given an unexpected twist yesterday morning. "Here we go again," this column said to itself.

But if you're nodding off at all this talk of hearings, appeals, the referee's report, procedures and possible loopholes, and find yourself asking why all the media fixation on non-football matters ... well, here's a possible explanation.

Some of the actual football is far more snooze-inducing.

This may seem like a strange statement after a televised Sunday double-bill that included two local derbies (Monaghan/Cavan and Galway/Mayo) that grabbed your attention and went down to the wire.

All true. Likewise, the second half of Cork/Tippeary on Saturday was more than decent, capped by a dramatic finale.

So what's the problem?


Here goes. This column was at Offaly/Westmeath on Sunday. Compared to Mayo/Galway, this derby was an Off-Broadway production but it meant a huge amount to both sets of players and supporters.

Just because the winners would be facing Dublin (and, ergo, high-tailing off to the qualifiers) this does not mean either county was blasé about the outcome. If anything, they wanted it too much.

Whether this or managerial instruction explains what transpired, who can tell ... but what we witnessed were two teams almost afraid of victory.

The wind was a curse on Sunday; but it's also an advantage that teams should always seek to maximise.

This didn't happen in Tullamore. Nor did it happen in Páirc Uí Rinn on Saturday when Cork, with the elements, played as if they were facing Hurricane Katrina. What happened? They amassed the princely first half total of 0-1.

Now, this shouldn't be mistaken for some myopic glorification of the 'good old days' when players were pigeon-holed by positions and told to lump it 50 yards at the first opportunity.

The game has evolved. It's more fluid and better for it. We also appreciate that sometimes, especially for a team low on confidence like Cork, sweepers are a necessary evil.

Yet on Saturday, with the wind, Cork's apparent game plan was self-defeating. The opposition were without suspended first-choice 'keeper Evan Comerford, whose restarts are one of Tipp's chief weapons.

It required a change of ends and, faced by provincial oblivion, a transformation of mindset, to turn the game on its head. Cork pressed up on the kickout and won oodles of them. Now they had a platform and went for it. Belated bravery had its reward.

Whereas in Tullamore, even though Offaly were the better side, you could argue that stalemate was the correct result. Why? Because in the second half, with a near-gale, their ultra-caution backfired.

At one stage they launched a potentially dangerous counter, with Westmeath seemingly stretched ... but then Offaly's sole attacker suddenly realised he was 'home alone' and was forced to turn back, with not a single team-mate within 60 yards of goal.

In the first half, the wind-backed Westies were every bit as inhibited.

Will a game of football suddenly break out in Saturday's replay? Here's hoping that both sides learn that fortune really does favour the brave ...

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