Skill levels are being neglected in push for physical superiority

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It’s sad that fitness now holds more value than natural footballing ability, writes PA?idAi?? A? SAi??

I was at some championship matches here in Kerry last week and I’m very concerned with the state of club football in the county right now. I don’t think it’s been as low in a long time. County championship football was always very big in Kerry but I believe it’s taken a turn for the worse and I’m not alone in thinking this way.

The standard of club football is a reflection of county football. Everyone is buying into the over-emphasis on fitness and on being able to run for 70 minutes, meaning there is a total lack of focus on developing ball skills.

The Dublin under 21 team that won the All-Ireland final this year was carried over the line by their superior fitness. They were by far the stronger team in the final and in the last quarter they finished much stronger than Roscommon. Until then, Roscommon were the better team but their legs went. They had the better players and more natural footballers but Dublin were fitter. You could say the same about the skill levels of the Galway and Sligo footballers.

It seems natural footballers are being overlooked in favour of players who are in better physical shape. For some innately skilled footballers, it can be a case of the ‘mind is willing but the flesh is weak’ when it comes to conditioning. When it comes to matches, they don’t have the physical training done to enable them to perform in the way they would wish. On the other hand, an awful lot of players don’t have the footballing ability to match their physical prowess.

The concern for me is that all over the country the development of skill levels is being neglected. There are still some examples of talent winning out over fitness. It was great to see Longford’s scoring blitz in the second half against Laois. They got some great scores from out the field and it was a similar scenario in the Galway and Sligo game. It was a joy to watch.

In Kerry, we are used to the luxury afforded by all our forwards having an ability to kick scores and it remains the case. Cork’s forwards are developing this and it is what helped Dublin to win the All-Ireland last year.

Before Dublin got players like Diarmuid Connolly and Kevin McManamon into their ranks, they weren’t a real threat because they were over-reliant on one or two others. It’s only since they have more than two forwards able to kick scores that they have developed into the team they are now.

Kicking the ball from the ground is one of the skills being neglected in modern football, and as a result of that so too is the high catch. Kicking from the ground would bring high fielding back into play. Taking frees from the hand speeds up the game but off the ground it gives backs a split second more to organise. Still, encouraging players to take frees and line balls from the ground would revive two dying skills.

We will have to see how the remainder of the year plays out but to date the team that seems to have adapted most from last year is Donegal. They have changed their game considerably since they lost to Dublin. In the second half of the All-Ireland semi-final, they had a golden period where if they had decided to kick the ball more I believe they would have won. The team has learned from their experience against Dublin and are kicking more scores, and extra players are taking on the scoring mantle.

Jim McGuinness is one man who has a good handle on his players at the moment and it seems to be a happy camp. For me, he is the up-and-coming manager in the country.

In today’s Connacht semi-final, you’d have to think it’s a foregone conclusion. A first-round championship game doesn’t always pan out the way you think it will but Mayo should have enough to get to the final.

Up north, I’m giving Down the nod. I’ve said this over the years but Monaghan’s players, especially their defence, are quite small. They need to get a few bigger men in there. Down can take advantage.

– Paidi O Se

This article appeared in The Sunday Independent on Sunday 24th June 2012
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