WE might be getting the club GAA season we deserve and the one we needed.
Last weekend’s senior hurling semi-finals might have gotten the headlines and yes, 63 scores in one spectacular game is worth all the acclaim.
Yet over in Pairc Ui Rinn, Nemo were filleting Ballincollig for five goals with the fingerprints of one player in particular, part of a story of how even a club like Nemo can be led by the emergence of certain skills and instincts. Part of a wider story as well of how players and teams have embraced the idea of risky forward play in a summer of high scores and constant attacking.
The Nemo goals all had a touch of genius from Luke Connolly or a moment where a goal might have been passed on by another team or player in the same situation. On the first goal you can see Nemo recognising that Ballincollig are open down the middle and going for the three points immediately. As a separate risk/reward debate, does the goalkeeper trying to pick out a runner fall into the category of getting punished for taking a risk?
The goal was finished by Nemo’s ruthless movement of ball and that unusual movement by Connolly where he does a hop of the ball, sort of hurdles over the tackling defender and takes control of the ball again before finishing very clinically to the net.
The second goal - again Connolly’s magic drop, pick-up, weave and crossfield kickpass to Ronan Dalton was the creativity needed to make an obvious goal-scoring situation. Dalton could have popped a point. Mark Cronin could have popped a point. They went for goal and smashed it.
Cronin’s vision and execution of pass to Peter Morgan’s run made the penalty for Connolly to slot in goal three.
Goal four was again Connolly’s awareness of a vulnerable defence and then the ability to punish with a run and low shot to the corner of the net.
Goal five was another punishment of an open defence with the use of a spare man runner to create the chance and a really controlled finish by Dalton - again Connolly was involved as a link and you can see him conducting the move to an extent, pointing where to put the ball, seeming to be aware early on the potential positioning to get a shot on goal away.
That’s five top class movements for goals. That’s three goals for Connolly and the other two where he played the key role in developing the move to create the chance.
That’s five goals in this year’s championship already with at least another game to play and he had two goals in last year’s county final win over this weekend’s opponents. It’s not hard to make out who has the biggest influence in what the Nemo attack is doing right now, the free-spirited adventure in their decisions and movement.
Last year we spoke with Connolly on his obsession with goals, how the idea of not going for a goal chance that presents is absurd, how you don’t shoot to miss. It’s always been his favourite method of execution and Nemo are killing teams with goals right now.
The old risk/reward debate is big everywhere right now but it’s always been a difference-maker. Rio Ferdinand tells that story about being happy out in his first few days training with Man Utd popping passes sideways out to his full-back until he got a roasting from Roy Keane – you’re at United now, we take risks with the ball.
It was funny then this week to see Keane being put out there as some kind of football traditionalist in his little spat with Jurgen Klopp on Sky Sports. It was fascinating to hear Klopp and other Liverpool players explain it along with the analysis afterwards, outlining how willing they were to take the ‘risk’ on pressing Arsenal so high up the field to regain possession in dangerous areas against the clear danger of getting caught outnumbered if their lines were broken by a pass or dribble.
They've realised it’s more effective overall to take that chance without the ball, that the worthwhile positions they can find are good value on the potential dangers. Bayern did it in the Champions League despite seeming to be on the brink of being caught almost constantly. It’s individual decision making with the ball too. Someone like Bruno Fernandes has lost possession an awful lot of times in games since joining Man Utd but he’s got that ability to unlock chances more than anybody and uses the freedom to try things effectively.
Same with Trent Alexander-Arnold or Kevin De Bruyne – top of assists and misplaced passes lists last season. The safety-first era has passed in soccer, the Jose Mourinho days of the team who makes fewer mistakes winning has become stale. GAA is following on.
This has transferred to hurling, where in the senior hurling semi-finals last weekend, UCC managed to lose scoring 0-34, basically because they came up against a team like Blackrock who can put up scores like 3-26, to follow up scores like 2-26 and 4-15 in championship so far.
There might be sweepers but the intention is to attack and score more than the other team to win.
Teams that can do that are getting their reward with wins.
A couple of weeks ago Kiladangan got their county title in Tipp because Bryan McLoughney, presented with the chance of winning the game or drawing the game, went for it – it looked like the thought of not going for it never entered his head.
It’s unlikely Glen or Blackrock will win this year’s title playing it safe.
In football here, it means that to win games you’re going to have to come up with a serious total score. The last two games Nemo played Ballincollig they lost – in 2014 Nemo scored only 0-9, in 2016 Ballincollig won with 1-10. It’s likely going to need to hit close to twenty points to beat Nemo given the rate they’re scoring at currently.
That’s a big jump in the scoring power needed and there aren’t many teams in the county who can naturally produce that kind of tally. Castlehaven if everything clicks certainly. But there’s a freedom in the football (and hurling) being played at clubs – it’ll be interesting to see it that transfers to inter-county by the way – where players are allowed a creativity to go for shots or work positions that they mightn’t always have done.
It’s more effective. It’s winning. It’s more fun.