HAVING travelled to Croke Park for the All-Ireland Club football semi-finals, I came away hugely impressed with the supreme levels of physical conditioning in all four teams.
It showed just how much the club game has progressed with players both individually and collectively taking huge pride in their conditioning.
Gone now are the days at club football now when a player’s season ends and they down tools for four or five months and come back to training two or three stone overweight.
Players are now engaging in structured and well-managed off seasons and on Sunday past the 20,000-plus paying crowd in Croke Park were subjected to two games that went right to the wire with supremely well-conditioned athletes on show.
Another striking feature of the two games was how well coached both winning teams were, Kilmacud and Glen are two of the best coached teams at club level I have seen for a long while.
Both teams have clearly defined, effective kick-out strategies and both teams are extremely well organised on opposition kick-outs, both putting on hugely aggressive presses at various stages.
The Glen attack is very interesting with the height, depth and width they get into the offensive plays, Kilmacud are similar and it was noticeable how they gravitate to one side of the field with an overload wide, and look to make the far side that contains Shane Walsh as sparsely populated as possible.
It really makes for an interesting final but one aspect both teams will need to tidy up on, particularly Kilmacud, is their game management late on in the game.
Game management is for me such a vital component in the modern game.
I used to reference peak Dublin quite a bit when I referred to good practice and good game management, and despite losing their All-Ireland title a few years back, they are and were the best and what we can do is learn from the best and tried to evolve as best we can. Just in the same way rugby clubs and countries try to learn from the All Blacks, in soccer from the likes of a Barcelona or in hurling from a Limerick.
Game management and understanding how to control a game in different circumstances is so important, not just for adult players but also younger players who are growing and learning in the sport.
You want to try and create situations in training that will expose the players to different types of pressure situations and allow them to develop the capacity to understand how to respond to these different challenges when they occur in games.
There are several ways you can implement game management into your coaching during training sessions, coaching the players how to react if they fall behind, how to control the pace of the game if needed or if they are in front how to protect their lead or further increase it.
Calls and signals can be an important part of game management. Reading Jose Mourinho’s book a few years back of his first time with Chelsea when they dominated the Premier League, he talked about how during important games or times when they went in front, the call would be to rest on the ball, in other words take the sting out of the game.
Dublin were excellent doing it in big games or late on in games, also the likes of the 44 call from Dublin which signalled their three banks of four zonal press on kick-outs.
Calls don’t have to be obvious; they can simply be a point, a clenched fist, a hand in the air or even a quick glance with the eye.
Kilmacud clearly use the Dublin hand in the air call – it was very evident when they were looking to slow the game down and avoid it becoming a basketball match. When a couple of turnovers were followed in quick succession that is their time to take the sting out of the game and seize back control. Glen did something very similar and were nearly caught by Maigh Cuilinn when delaying in possession.
Tactically it has the potential to be a great final, so many intriguing elements to it, kick-out strategies, the midfield battle, the match-ups, the offensive ploys, the defensive structures and shapes but it may come down to who manages the game best.