Intensity is a buzzword when it comes to tackling drills - but there is more to it than that, writes Michael Hannon.
You know the drill. The coach puts out four cones on the ground to form a square and then hands out a bunch of bibs to half the players.
He sends in two men with the ball and three with bibs to tackle them. The classic overload, three against two, in a 10m by 10m square.
He blows the whistle and the three bibs go at it like ravenous men tearing shreds off a fresh batch loaf. Your brand new training top starts ripping. The coach has four grids set up but only one pair of eyes.
It’s tantamount to a free-for-all and if those eyes aren’t on your grid then it’s fair game to foul and pull and drag all in the name of Intensity. The two men with possession get three or four passes off before one of them runs outside the square to avoid getting hit.
“Stay inside the grid!” shouts the coach. Its almost like he wants them to get the love of the game battered out of them.
Back inside, they manage two or three passes before the ball is spilled. Reset. Go again. Ball spills. And then you hear a voice. Every week the same fella pipes up banging the same drum and this right now is the perfect chance to get his say in.
He shouts, angrily, like he badly needs a cuddle, for everyone to raise the intensity levels and seconds later you swear you can hear ribs breaking two grids down.
Then one day the man with the whistle decides to try something different. Fresh from a coaching conference, he’s picked up a trick or two. He’s not just handing out bibs today, he’s also handing out tennis balls.
There was too much fouling going on in the game last weekend, lazy pulling and draggin which practically handed the opposition frees on a silver platter. So this time every man wearing a bib will have to hold a tennis ball in each hand.
As long as you’re gripping the ball you can’t be pulling on a jersey. This will put an end to all that fouling, he reckons. Suddenly the coach doesn’t need four pairs of eyes for the four grids. He’s got tennis balls in every defender's palm. And off they go.
And something strange happens. Last week you had turnover after turnover. This week there is a decided lack of turnovers. It’s like you’ve accidently stumbled upon one of Gaelic football's great truths: it’s damn hard to take the ball off the opposition if you play strictly to the rule of the tackle.
Sixty seconds later and the whistle is blown to end the drill. Three against two, four grids on the go, and not a single turnover won. It’s fairly simple what the problem is?
“Where’s the f****** intensity?” screams our friend. And this time he’s on to something.
Because to force the turnover you have to get real proximity to the man in possession. With tennis balls in your hand, you really have to get your body in the correct position if you’re going to dispossess someone or intercept the ball when it’s being passed from one guy to the other.
With tennis balls in your hands, you can’t pull ever so slightly to bring the guy back to where you want him. In other words, with tennis balls in your hand you’ve got to move more. And that was five players in a 10m by 10m grid.
Needless to say, Croke Park is much bigger. Try 88m by 145m. That’s 127 times the square size of your small tackle grid, but a full Croke Park will only have six times the players.
In other words, go back to training and reconstruct a tackle grid that’s 44m by 44m. Now set up your three against two tackle drills and see how many turnovers the tennis ball holding defenders will manage. Not too many I’d imagine.
If a team decides to keep the ball, it can be extremely hard to get it back. When Dublin decide to hold onto the ball and simply refuse to engage with a mass defence, the opposition are urged to go out and chase the ball by the crowd, or indeed by the arm chair fan sitting at home watching the game on television.
Just remember this, it doesn’t take much intensity to shout at your television but it takes a hell of a lot more to win that ball back.
Especially when a team can turn around and simply pass the ball all the way back to their keeper. I’ve written about this before but I really feel as if we’re at a critical moment in terms of the health of Gaelic football and the opportunity to change its rules.
It requires great technical ability to hold on to possession in soccer when under pressure. Likewise in basketball, where your ability to move is limited to just a single step without playing the ball, your ability to pass the ball backwards is curtailed by the half-court rule, and you have 24 seconds to take a
shot otherwise you forfeit possession.
Even in hurling, the size of the ball makes a short passing possession based game more difficult to execute under pressure. But in Gaelic football the technical ability to hold onto possession is relatively small given the size of the pitch, the size of the ball, the relatively simplicity of a five to ten metre hand pass, and the freedom to go all the way backwards to your goalkeeper if you need to.
In soccer when you up the intensity the reward is obvious. The back pass rule regarding the keeper can often see a team who are being pressed forced to go long with a ball and suddenly the length of the pass allows for a interception to occur or a defender to break it to a team mate.
In Gaelic football, if you get everyone to go man to man and press the ball all the way back to the goalkeeper you’ll find yourself outnumbered at that end of the
field because the ’keeper can effectively become another outfield player.
At which point, some in the crowd will shout "get a tackle in!", which of course, as every man who ever stood in a 10m by 10m grid clenching tennis balls knows, is really code for, up the intensity lads!
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