In GAA, why do so many feel the need to vilify teams for getting positive results playing in a way that doesn’t suit the purists?
We hear terms like ‘black death’ and ‘puke football’ all too often when really what we are witnessing is the growth of tactics within a game that is constantly evolving.
While this may be new to Gaelic football, it’s something that has been going on forever in professional sports and our games are becoming more professional by the day, so obviously, tactics are going to mirror that.
So, why do Gaels feel the need to cry about teams that use a perceived negative tactic in order to get a positive result when actually, it’s quite common.
Burnley football club defied to odds to finish seventh in the 2017/2018 English Premier League and as a result, qualified for the Europa League.
A fantastic achievement for a club who had not qualified for Europe in 51 years and had been plying their trade in England’s second tier just two seasons prior.
But, how did they do it?
The answer was simple. A solid gameplan built on a defensive structure designed to pick up points. Sean Dyche’s side scored just 36 goals across their 38 Premier League games.
To put that into context, only Brighton, Swansea and West Brom scored fewer goals with the latter pair finishing in the relegation zone.
There was wide-scale praise for Burnley following their achievement. There was no outpouring of rage from fans crying about ‘black deaths’, and why would there be? They had just finished seventh and qualified for Europe.
Christ! Sean Dyche had a bloody pub named after him!
The Seattle Seahawks’ Superbowl winning season in 2014 was built largely on their defence. Sure, they had Marshawn Lynch (the best running back in the league at the time) who ran in 14 touchdowns but their defence was so good that it was monikered the ‘Legion of Boom’.
Throughout the entirety of that season, Pete Carroll’s side scored 45 touchdowns and conceded just 21. They ranked eighth in the league scoring 417 points in total.
The franchise they toppled in the Superbowl XVIII decider, Denver Broncos, scored 76 touchdowns that season, conceding 47. The Peyton Manning-led side scored a total of 606 points.
On paper, the Broncos should win that ball game all day, but they did not.
Again, because Pete Carroll had a gameplan built on defensive structures that were designed to win football games.
The above are two examples of teams maximising their potential to reach unknown heights. While the Seahawks were well capable of winning a Superbowl, they knew that, in order to do so, their gameplan had to be based on defence.
Burnley were never going to win a Premier League title. With all due respect, a seventh-place finish is probably as good as it’s ever going to get.
Sean Dyche knew that if they could keep it tight at the back, concede fewer goals at the expense of scoring goals and finish in the European places then it was a job well done.
So…If these teams can be praised for using a defensive approach to maximise their potential then why do we make villains out of those who do so in the GAA?
Over the past two season’s, two teams, in particular, have shouldered a lot of criticism for their defensive approach to the game. Fermanagh & Carlow.
The Ulster side have been bemoaned left, right and centre over the past 18 months.
Last year, they qualified for an Ulster final beating Monaghan en route. It was their first provincial decider in 10 years (remember Fermanagh have never won an Ulster title) and they got there playing a highly defensive brand of football.
If you think they would have got anywhere near the final playing a more attractive, attacking style then you are out of your f**king mind.
This season, Rory Gallagher’s side have scored just 52 points in the Allianz Football League, the lowest scoring team across all four divisions, however, they conceded just 44 points, which again is the lowest among the 32-teams.
Like Burnley, they have accepted scoring fewer points in the knowledge that they will concede less and thus, win more games.
However, experts out there continue to brand them as the ‘black death’ when, at the end of the day, it’s just tactics.
Fermanagh have maximised the potential they have at hand to make them competitive and their fans don’t give a scooby-doo how they do it.
The other side that comes in for a lot of criticism is Carlow, in spite of the fact that some of those same people loved jumping on the #CarlowRising bandwagon.
Last week we spoke to Steven Poacher, the man who has had to deal with much of the criticism on behalf of the Carlow footballers and he put it in black and white for us.
“If people want everyone to play the same way we are going to have a boring spectacle. I think it’s brilliant to see a team play defensively, how are you going to break them down? I think it’s brilliant to see a team press high, it’s brilliant to see different styles and different philosophies because that’s what all games take, it would be a very boring game if teams all played the same way,” Poacher told Pundit Arena.
“That’s just the way it is, you play with what you have and you use your resources the best you possibly can and that’s what we’ve done in Carlow, we’ve maximised our resources,
“There’s just a real feel-good factor around the county and that comes from having someone to follow and having a little bit of success and that’s the key thing for me.”
“I just think at the minute we are very quick to bash the game, very quick to knock people, the abuse and the criticism that Rory Gallagher’s getting, you ask every Fermanagh person where they would rather be. Would they rather be in Division 3 struggling or on the brink of Division 1?”
Carlow have gone from the bottom of Division 4 to playing in Croke Park. Again, you are out of your mind if you think that is possible playing man on man.
What both counties have done is maximise the resources they have in terms of budget, facilities and most importantly, players, to come up with a way to reach their potential and become competitive.
Often we are too quick to throw out the line ‘sure you’ll never beat Dublin playing that way’. I hate to break it to you but, at the minute nobody has found a way to beat Dublin.
Let’s be realistic. Fermanagh and Carlow are never going to win an All-Ireland, not anytime soon.
If the Ernemen can get promoted to football’s top-tier and continue to compete in Ulster, that can only be a good thing.
The same applies to Carlow. If they can continue to build and compete then who are we to knock them for that. Remember, this is a team who hadn’t been promoted in 34 years until last season.
Let’s stop lambasting these teams for maximising their potential and instead commend them for it because, at the end of the day, it’s just tactics.