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What The Sunday Game Pundits Got Wrong About Galway's System

What The Sunday Game Pundits Got Wrong About Galway's System
By Maurice Brosnan

35, 39, 39. The total number of scores Galway conceded in the Connacht Championship for 2016, 2017 and 2018 respectively. They played three games this year, three last year and two in 2016. Much has been made of Paddy Tally, the coach from the North who has seemingly come in and converted this Galway team into a defensive side. Make no mistake, this is a process that started long before him.

Galway have improved on last year, but it is erroneous to solely credit this to Tally. There is evidence of all their coach's influence on their current style. The physicality of the team vindicates Kevin Walsh's decision to draft in strength and conditioning coach Keith Carr last year. Walsh himself was once an international basketball player and had his side playing basketball during pre-season to develop systems which would soon be transformed to the field. Galway's kick-out success has Sean Conlon's influence written all over it.

53, 27, 67. The total number of scores Galway have scored in the Connacht Championship for 2016, 2017 and 2018. The development of young, industrious and well conditioned forwards like Eamonn Brannigan, Sean Kelly, Peter Cooke, Barry McHugh has seen Walsh breed the perfect player for his current system.

Both Walsh and Tally are open to other sports for aspects they can adapt to improve their teams. The best coaches often are, it's why current Mayo coach Donie Buckley annually packs his bags and heads to Florida to observe NFL training. When working with Tyrone, Tally was also doing a sports science masters in Jordanstown. He heard about a device called a powerbreathe, a handheld resisted-breathing device that the successful English rugby team used during the 2002 World Cup. Tally brought this device into Tyrone's camp to increase their lung capacity.

During their 0-16 to 2-6 Connacht final victory, Galway were criticised for their tendency to point their fingers while defending, particularly in the first-half. In reality, this is a simple element of their system. The system in its entirety is impossible to decipher without access to training sessions and management, but there are certain core elements that are apparent.

Galway conceded 1-4 from play against an excellent Roscommon attack. Ciaráin Murtagh's goal came about because of an individual's failure, not a system failure. The premise is simple. Previously, Galway were vulnerable because ball into their defense would be laid off to an oncoming runner who was not tracked. Now, every man is accounted for and every player must deliberately indicate who they are marking, an arm raised or a 'my man' call to illustrate it to their team-mates.

Tom Flynn takes the man with ball, calls to Barry McHugh to pick up the outside man.

The ball is moved wide to Murtagh (10) and Galway's match-ups are perfect, McHugh moves across to Murtagh and Flynn stays with the first passer.

Roscommon recycle infield, the call is clearly made for 'my man' and Flynn is no longer on Enda Smith. In this shot, the sweeper is Kyne (edge of the square) but he subsequently gets pulled out of there.

The ball returns to Murtagh, once again versus McHugh. McHugh calls his man, but does not stand Murtagh up and gets beaten 1 v 1.

The system did not fail. McHugh did. Now, there is a justifiable claim that a forward like McHugh should not be faced with a forward as dangerous as Murtagh, but his job is not to mark him, merely make the tackle or stand him up. There is a reason Galway pick dynamic players like Heaney, Brannigan, Kelly and Sweeney; there is an expectation that they will perform on both sides on the ball.

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To see an example of what McHugh should have done, look at Eoghan Kerin's textbook stand-out tackle in the second half. A long ball inside again saw Kerin one on one. The Annaghdown clubman made initial contact with a hit, rolled the tackle, got an open palm in and spoiled the ball.

There has been focus on Galway's kick-out strategy in the second half, yet the real change was the loss of Cathal Compton who was superb in competing with Tom Flynn. His absence affected Roscommon both on their own kick-out and Galway's more than any 'tactical shift.'

The premise of Galway's defensive system is that if every player is accounted for, you can force the turnover or the opposition will shoot under pressure. This is what happened, Roscommon rarely got a clean opportunity but tried to score anyway and finished with 13 wides, three balls dropped short and no points from play in the second half.

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Roscommon did not make it easy for themselves, particularly on their own kick-out. They continued to pump ball out the field when it wasn't working, Lavin was slow to restart the game, wasting time gathering his tee and considering options. They did not go short and even when Galway had a 13 metre free, no spare ball was near the goalkeeper and he was running 20 yards to gather a ball for the kick-out. This allowed Galway take stock and get set.

 Cluxton, Brody, Beggan would all have footballs ready for the quick kick-out. Lavin had to run 20 yards for his. 

As Tom Parsons highlighted on the Sunday Game last night, they never went short even when plan A wasn't working.

Galway are far from perfect and the big test will come later in the year, at a stage where they have flattered to deceive for two successive championships. But the theory of their system is sound and could pose questions come the Super 8s.

SEE ALSO: The Hurling Rolling All-Stars: Round 5

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