I had to run the gauntlet on the way into Croke Park on Sunday.
Walking the mile or so to the stadium from Kavanagh’s pub, my son Rory kept grabbing my arm and saying “Don’t stop daddy, keep going.”
When we reached the park, we suddenly found ourselves walking towards the entire Kerry minor squad.
I spotted their joint managers, quicksilver attacker Mickey Ned and legendary full back, John O’Keefe still looking like Captain America.
Then the players spotted me. Someone roared “It’s Joe Brolly” and a chant started to swell from nowhere, like those impromptu chants that break out on the terraces at Parkhead or Anfield. “Gooch! Gooch! Gooch! Gooch! Gooch! Gooch! Gooch!” they chorused, creating a wall of sound like a thousand angry baboons.
Throngs of Kerry supporters all around joined in. As the intensity increased, Rory was pulling my arm frantically “Let’s Go daddy, please, let’s get out of here.”
“Stand your ground son,” I said to him. Suddenly, I realised I was blowing kisses to them. Then I signalled them to quieten down, waving them to silence with two hands.
“Lads” I shouted,” I’ll see you all back here at this exact spot at half past five. We’ll discuss it then.”
As we ploughed through them, the chant resumed, becoming almost deafening. When we got to our seats Rory’s face was shining with excitement. “Jesus daddy” he said” Is it like this every week?”
The result was inevitable. I watched the Kerry players before the game and they looked edgy and nervous.
As Donegal ran through their loosening gallops, it was they who looked like the four time champions, exuding composure, concentration and calmness.
Seeing them in the flesh again in Croke Park left me entirely relaxed about the outcome. I texted my good friend John Haran from Letterkenny, congratulating him. Then came the throw-in and the inexorable entangling of Kerry men in the Donegal web.
Their method is ground zero for Gaelic football.
Once the players fully understand it and are physically equipped to carry out their designated tasks - as they now are – very little can go wrong.
The defensive system ensures that scores against are kept to the bare minimum. It also drives talented opposing attackers to distraction, since they are prohibited from playing the game on their usual terms.
This inevitably leads to panic, the cyanide pill for any sportsman. Their defensive method (by this I mean their defensive method throughout the field) means that losing primary midfield possession is not at all vital, merely inconvenient.
The heart of the plan is to create turnovers in the middle third. The final components are either to drive the ball long into McFadden or preferably, to run the ball through the middle.
The strategy of running hard through the middle is preferred by Jim because he knows that this is the method least likely to go wrong.
Watching them on Sunday doing it reminded me of a good Rugby League team. The key is to drive hard at the opposition and take the tackle.
Firstly, this creates a very good chance of being fouled and the resultant frees are a rich source of Donegal’s scores.
Secondly, if the solo-runner is not fouled, he has committed at least one opponent before laying the ball off to the man on his shoulder.
This man in turn does exactly the same, sprinting towards goals and forcing the covering defenders to come to him.
Extremely crude, but extremely efficient.
Darragh O’Se – in a typically classy column in Wednesday’s Irish Times – posed a question that many have been asking.
Why is Colm McFadden left so isolated? Why isn’t someone pushed up to support him? The answer to that question is simple. If Jim did that, then the whole house of cards would collapse.
The absolute prerequisite of the system is to keep opposition scores to a minimum. It is this that breaks their will and keeps the scoreboard static.
This in turn means that Colm cannot be helped in his lonely vigil. It typifies the logic of the manager: Problem: Colm is isolated and will invariably be out-numbered by opposing defenders.
Solution: Colm will have to learn to cope with being isolated and outnumbered. Therefore, we will recreate this in training until it becomes second nature for Colm.
So, Colm is sent in to compete against two or three defenders four times a week. At a session I attended last year they had a drill where the ball was given to him repeatedly against three defenders and his job was to try and get a shot off.
After about 10 attempts, he hadn’t managed a single score and was left gasping on his hands and knees.
This has become Colm’s reality. He knows precisely what to expect and therefore does not become frustrated.
In fact, come match day he must feel like a man who has been given early parole from Mountjoy.
“Only two men on me today? This is going to be easy.”
Like every other part of the project, the solution is entirely logical.
Rule out all the other possibilities and you are left with the answer, however unusual it might at first appear.
At half past five, I went back and stood in exactly the same spot. No one showed up. “Can you hear it?” I said to Rory, as we turned to walk away.....