A failure to work to a distinct game plan for the full 70 minutes was what cost Cavan, but luckily that can be fixed, WRITES MICHAEL HANNON.
Everyone has their own philosophy on football and what a lot of it boils down to is this: do you pick a game plan to suit the players you have or pick players to suit the system you favour?
Cavan, I think, are trying to get players to fit into a system of play but it remains to be seen if that is the correct choice.
Take the case of Martin Reilly, for example. I was puzzled as to why he was taken off at half-time. He was replaced by Jack Brady, who is a quick, aggressive, explosive player who makes runs to the ball, whereas Martin is a player who holds the 40 and makes multiple cross-field runs. That altered things a lot, and I'm not criticising Jack by saying that.
Martin's instincts are to strike the ball. Jack's instincts are to take on his player, so a deeper-lying half-forward role, or an out and out inside-forward role would have suited him on Sunday. Aided by a breeze in the second half, it was Martin who would have been better able to release the inside players.
It will take time for these players and this management to work out these nuances, and when implementing any strategy there will inevitably be some lessons that must be learned. The only problem, in a section like Division 3, is that time is not something any team will be afforded.
Cavan were playing the better quality of football in the first half, but Antrim were playing more football because they had more of the ball. From that point of view, there were positives to take from the game - there was quality on show from Cavan. Their first goal, for example, came as a result of an excellent move.
However, Antrim created a lot more scoring chances than we did. As long as you're winning the ball, you have a great chance of winning the game and Antrim just kept winning possession. Even when Cavan were three points up, I felt that Antrim were going to win the game because they were dominating possession.Antrim were running harder with the ball than Cavan, breaking the tackle and breaking through lines.
When a team scores two fisted points, it's an indicator of that. There were waves of them coming at the Cavan defence.
Ultimately, speed kills and I thought we were out-paced at the back at times. As a defender you are not going to deny your man possession of the ball every time, but it is vitally important that you do not allow him past you on the occasions he wins it out in front of you. Antrim's Conor Murray, who scored five points, had that injection of pace - it was his debut, so maybe Cavan didn't know enough about him, but he caused a lot of problems.
Performance-wise, not many individuals really hit the sort of form we needed. I thought Killian Clarke did alright and I was disappointed to see him moved out from corner-back. Cavan should have left Killian on Pollock - he was getting to the ball but he wasn't getting past Clarke and it would have been a good experience for him. Young players need to learn their trade and marking a player is a skill as well, which needs to be practised at that level.
David Givney provided an outlet at full-forward and showed great awareness when he was given the ball. I thought Cian Mackey was good at times too but Cavan needed more of a cutting edge from him, like he showed when he created the penalty. When Niall McDermott got the ball in or around the full-forward line, and managed to get turned, he was impressive. He showed well but the ball didn't always stick as well as it should have
And again, it all comes back to the game plan. There was an occasion when Michael Herron dispossessed Niall inside Cavan's 45 and got a point, but then again, that's not McDermott's role anyway. Mackey or Mark McKeever should have been in those positions, coming out with that ball, and the fact that it was Niall is symptomatic of the performance - Cavan didn't adhere rigidly to a game plan, and that was their undoing.
Cavan seemed to set out their stall as if they were going to get loads of men back but as the game wore on, they seemed to abandon that game plan and tried to turn the ball over further up the pitch. By then, they were getting more tired and were unable to get men back when Antrim turned them over and started attacking.
I don't know did the message from the sideline change during the match, or did the players fail to implement the plan for the 70 minutes. Or maybe fitness was an issue. It's really hard to say but I think not executing the game plan hurt us. Because make no mistake, when Antrim got in front, Cavan deviated from what they had set out to do, and that's fatal. And when Antrim got on top, they turned the screw better.
How good were they? Well, I was impressed with the way Antrim were able to break down Cavan's defence. Often, when they did get the ball inside and Cavan tackled hard and forced them outside the 45, they could switch the ball back 20 yards into the centre and either drive straight down the middle and off-load or kick it cross-field again.
The problem with playing a mass defence is that much of what goes on inside the 45 is undefined. Players obviously know they must get back, and then apply pressure on the ball but there can often be a lack of accountability among players.
If Cavan are to persevere with this approach they must define everybody's role much better. To borrow a phrase from basketball, they were trying to play a man-to-man defence with zonal principles. If you're a wing-back, for example, you need to know that one of your jobs is to make sure that no-one carries the ball between you and the centre-back. If this looks like happening both players have to collapse in to close up the channel. But time and time again, Antrim were able to solo down those channels.
It was as if everyone would get sucked over to one side of the pitch. Does it really take eight Cavan men to dispossess three Antrim players? And when they slipped the ball back and then drove, there was a gap in that zonal defence. The bodies were no longer there. They'd solo right through and when someone came to them, they'd off-load it and it would be popped over the bar.
There is a discipline required of the mass defence described above and it goes beyond getting players back behind the ball. It was worrying because a lot of Antrim's scores were identical. The same simple flaws were getting exposed again and again. If a team scores 1-14 against you, 0-7 in one half and 1-7 in the other, the defensive system of play isn't working.
Maybe this is why they started to push players out the pitch, in recognition that Plan A wasn't working. If that's the case then this week it's up the coaching staff to address the reasons why the system was ineffective. An intensive session of video analysis beckons for Anthony Forde & Co!
After five minutes, you could see what they were trying to do but after 55, they had lost their shape, due to panic or whatever, and that needs to be fixed.
Monaghan will be on a high after a win over a depleted Meath and Cavan really, really need to fight fire with fire. Cavan have to persevere with the game plan for the full match. Like every other game in this division, Cavan could win it, or lose it, and much will depend on the adjustments they make to their defensive strategy.
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