Even the most attack-minded team needs to have a structure

Even the most attack-minded team needs to have a structure
Corofin’s Daithi Burke kicks a point against Nemo. Picture: INPHO/Gary Carr

IT can be made look very easy of course, this attacking lark. 

Last Saturday afternoon, for example, Corofin put together a second goal of such synchronisation and wonder that it was tempting to watch it over and over again to try and find the code to unlock that kind of combination. 

There are a few different elements to ponder here. 

There’s the off-the-cuff brilliance of course to conjure up that movement of players and ball in an All-Ireland final, where the timing of each run and pass is so perfect that even a delay of a fraction of a second on any aspect of the goal would have made it impossible – watch especially the looped run of the goalscorer Michael Farragher off the ball around the back of Nemo’s defensive space. 

Michael Farragher hits the net. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Michael Farragher hits the net. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

And there’s the thought that it comes from somewhere else as well, from years of training and playing together and knowing the runs and decisions that an individual will make with and without the ball; that while it’s clearly not a goal designed specifically in training, it is the sort of goal a team would create in a handpassing support drill at the end of a tough session, a goal created from the memory of a group working together over months and years.

All of which forms part of the wider discussion in football and other sports right now on the methods of attacking, the work that needs to be done to create a functioning system of creating scores. 

That balance between a coach setting out patterns and making link-ups between players through repetition in training/games and a coach who just passes freedom and responsibility to the creative players to do the business however they see fit. 

At the end of January I was at Wembley for Tottenham/Man Utd and it was striking to see the difference between a team who clearly does an awful lot of work on attacking situations and where a team all know where they’re meant to be on the field when trying to create as opposed to a team that has no set idea at all on what exactly they’re supposed to do or where they should be in relation to the other attacking players. 

Jose Mourinho talks with Manchester United's French midfielder Paul Pogba. Picture: Getty
Jose Mourinho talks with Manchester United's French midfielder Paul Pogba. Picture: Getty

It was there in the football games last weekend. 

There’s no way that you could coach the kind of street-football play that David Clifford came up with to escape a defender and create a score for himself with that little half-volleyed one-two and finish against Kildare. 

Tyrone had a nice mix of definite method in how they moved as a unit going forward with a moment of pure genius from Lee Brennan to score his goal.

The Cork/Clare match unfolded almost into a study of one group who’s been together a while and knows the gameplan against a group that’s only just getting to know the individual runs and passes and the sort of decisions players like to make on the ball. 

Cork lacked fluency with the ball and had very little of the timing or instinctive movement and link-ups that arrive with time. 

It’s hard to recall for instance many occasions where a forward gave a completed pass to another forward that looked to be following a pattern of how Cork were meant to be creating scores, where it wasn’t just an individual player doing his thing and then moving the ball to another individual who did his own thing as well. 

The amount of interplay between the forward unit or between the half-backs and half-forwards was very low. 

At one stage of the first half a long high ball was kicked on top of Peter Kelleher. 

The target man won possession and was fouled but there was no sign of a runner to take a handpass at speed or a runner into space behind. 

Ian Maguire carried loads of ball past one tackler but then tended to get isolated without support runners taking the second ball off the shoulder as if Cork hadn’t yet worked on how best to exploit that hard-running ability to break a line beyond hoping he’d work an overlap somewhere. 

Gary Brennan of Clare in action against Ian Maguire of Cork. Picture: Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Gary Brennan of Clare in action against Ian Maguire of Cork. Picture: Matt Browne/Sportsfile

Cork has a reputation as a running team and there were one or two glimpses of attempts to carry the ball into Colm O’Neill for that loop around shot but again it seemed more circumstance than a definite focused effort to get Cork’s most dangerous shooter on the ball in positions he can score from.

There was a contrast in Clare too, in how for example they got Gary Brennan into positions one-v-one around the pitch and let him work his ability to take a score. 

The runs from deep of Jamie Malone were clearly a targeted way to attack Cork. 

There were three or four times in the second half where Clare worked the ball into positions for shots at goal from Tubridy, Sexton and Cleary from moves that looked very deliberate, where players made runs and took options in possession that came from work that’d been done on the training ground, or at least were following an overall idea on how they were meant to be moving the ball towards the opposition goal.

It takes time and work of course and it’s not about robotic rehearsed moves of player A moving into one area and then player B moving into another set position. 

Some very good attacking teams over the years were simply told to go and express themselves with freedom to interchange and move the ball in whatever way was most effective. 

And yet for all the talk of structured defensive systems, there probably needs to be some organisation or coherence into the attacking ideas too. 

So that if a team has a midfielder who likes to make ground and is effective at making ground with the ball, you’d want at least one of the others from the middle eight making a run past him into space or on his shoulder to move the next ball on or take the shot at goal. 

Or if a team has a really good ball-winner inside, you’d want runners from deep knowing they have to be there with him to take the pass and open up angles of attack. 

Some of this will come naturally with games together and some will come from positional work in training and constant reinforcement on making a certain type of run or a certain type of pass. 

After a few years of thinking how to defend, football teams are now needing to spend some time thinking how to attack.

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