OF all the vast statistics and obvious ways in which Nemo Rangers reasserted their authority in club football last weekend, there were standout details all the same.
Yes, Nemo and Duhallow won simply because they had more quality and more scores and yes that was largely predictable and the games lacked the drama that might have come from overperforming underdogs. Still, there was something in the learnings of modern football to keep things interesting enough if you were minded to look.
Nemo’s goals for example had that lovely combination of doing the basics really well and knowing the type of decisions that need to be made in Gaelic football matches now. Take goal one.
Twenty minutes into the game and Nemo had basically aggressively attacked every Douglas kick-out – it was obvious from the start they were going into a man-v-man press as often as possible. And if they hadn’t won possession, they’d put serious pressure on every single ball Douglas tried to secure.
After a score to make it 0-4 to 0-3, Brian Boyle rushed the ball to the kick-out spot, noticed Nemo were a man down in the forwards and tapped the ball quickly out to his defender in the full-back position. Point one here, the possession is king argument would say that it’s better for the team to secure possession even if it’s 20 yards out right in front of their goal but there are risks associated with this thinking that may outweigh the rewards.
There wasn’t a clear danger as the ball was handpassed to the centre-back position but a problem emerged as two Douglas defenders ran ahead of the ball either side in support and Nemo sniffed a development. Point two here, the pressing of the modern GAA attack, where forwards recognise and are drilled into spotting situations where a turnover can lead to a serious chance to go at a defence that’s caught completely out of position.
So it happened, as Mark Cronin chased back to knock the ball away from the Douglas defender and Paul Kerrigan, realising that four of the five Douglas defenders inside their 45 were now caught ahead of the ball, snapped the loose ball into Luke Connolly on the ground.
Conor Horgan, totally alive to everything, had taken off towards the space in behind the Douglas defenders the very second the ball went loose and got picked out through on goal by Connolly’s pass – Kerrigan had continued his run to offer support and got an easy flick to the net as reward.
A simple kick-out situation had led a decisive goal, match-changing would be too much, Nemo were already showing a real continued ability to create big chances, from that mix of Douglas’ commitment to getting fast ball out to keep possession from kick-outs but taking risk with working the ball out and Nemo punishing that with ruthlessness.
The very next kick-out, again Nemo pushed up heavily, Douglas tried to secure possession with a kick down the middle towards the 45, but Nemo won possession and kicked a handy point. Nemo referred afterwards to the targeting of turnovers in the forward line and midfield to create this kind of devastation on Douglas and it was this combination of work-rate and cleverness to go after these opportunities that stood out.
Nemo themselves showed the possibilities of reward from the short kick-out not long afterwards. Douglas had kicked a score and as Barry O’Driscoll had worked back the field to follow a runner, he drifted out to the right corner-back position, where Micheal Martin very swiftly curled a fast kick-out.
Nemo worked the ball across the field to open players and spaces and eight passes later got Alan O’Donovan running in at the Douglas defence to fire a low strike into the net. Nemo worked the ball out the sides and were smarter, Douglas not quite as aggressive to the player on the ball.
There’s that risk/reward of how to use kick-outs and how to press or not press the opposition’s kick-outs, but then there’s ways of doing both the right way. There’s nothing wrong with the short kick-out, even if there is a tendency towards overplaying it now, almost as if teams feel that it’s the right way to play even when it’s not on at all.
We can see this at inter-county level where teams are getting caught more often on short kick-outs and though the detail is slightly different in club games (ball skills inferior to not get short passes or ball-carries right but targeted pressing also less likely) the decisions are largely the same.
Duhallow got the ball out quickly from their goalkeeper in the first game and from their very first kick-out in the opening minutes, they floated a high ball out to the left corner-back position and moved the ball up and across the field with such purpose and pace and intelligence through seventeen passes for Anthony O’Connor to hit the post with a shot for goal.
And kudos again to the Examiner making these games available online now to allow this kind of analysis and checking post-game.
Again it gave a glimpse of potential gains in the right circumstances, where Duhallow took a risk but were able to pull Newcestown into areas to a certain extent and open more space for runners and ball to move into, where they were able to turn that possession into a scoring chance.
By the way, Nemo’s third goal managed to showcase their overall game, that ball and player movement that very few other clubs or divisions have been able to match for a long time now.
A long kick-out down the middle, a neat tapdown to a waiting player at midfield to win possession, a long kick-pass from Luke Connolly into Horgan’s paws, a lovely little cutback movement from Mark Cronin to find space and then the exact same movement from Paul Kerrigan to get in behind the Douglas defence to palm Cronin’s handpass to the net.
It was a stunning yet simply crafted move that killed Douglas off completely. It was a reminder that Nemo have moved with the ideas of finding different ways to hurt teams.