We once had a player in our club who could kick a football higher than any other player I have ever seen.
In matches, and in training, this player would burst onto a pass and whether he was 20m or 50m from the goal, his shot selection was always the same. It could be best described as a decent effort to launch the ball into orbit around the earth. If he happened to score a point while doing this, it was a bonus. If you were playing in the full-forward line there was no need to be alert for a rebound off the crossbar. In fact, there was not even any danger of a rebound off the upright.
This used to drive one of our selectors mad. “You’ll get the same point whether it travels two feet or a hundred and two feet over the bar” he used to say. “And, if you shoot lower, the ball is a damn sight more likely to stay between the posts” he would add. Of course this made no difference whatsoever to our player. In time, his kicking became a feature, rather than a distraction of his play. It was only when a stranger saw him in action, and brought it to our attention, that we even noticed it. We had become used to balls that were so high that the sailed harmlessly wide because gravity had lost its pull on them.
Our team was not the only team to suffer this problem. Legend has it that the Beara football team would sometimes suffer from the same problem of players attempting to launch rockets into space. One particularly windy day the Beara full forward became so exasperated from looking up at little white objects sailing high and wide over his head that he roared out the field to his teammates “would ye for God’s sake kick the high balls in low.”
The point our selector was trying to make was a valid one. The reward for a spectacular point is equal to the reward for a shot that barely drops over the bar, or a punt that never rises more than 3m off the ground but travels in a straight line between the posts.
Castlehaven’s and Duhallow’s Results 2012 Football championship
When it comes to playing games, simplicity and efficiency are often the keys to success. Take the scoring records of the new Cork County Senior Football champions, Castlehaven in this years’ championship.
The ‘Haven played six games in the county championship. They won five and drew one. The highest number of scores they got in any game was 12. That happened twice. They scored 0-12 against Aghada in the first round and in their replay of the quarterfinal with St Finbarrs. They scored nine scores (1-8) against Newcestown (1-6) in round 4. That Newcestown goal was the only one they conceded in the championship.
In the quarterfinal draw and replay against the ‘Barrs, the score lines were 1-7 to 0-10, and 0-12 to 0-9. The semi-final tally against Carbery Rangers was 15 points, which was accumulated with just 11 scores, 2-9. Castlehaven won the title last Sunday’s final with a 1-7 to 0-9 win over Duhallow.
On the face of things these were hardly impressive score lines by Castlehaven. Winning games, and especially championship games however, is just like scoring points. It is not how spectacular you are that counts, it is how efficient you are that makes the difference. I went to see Castlehaven play twice in recent weeks and I fell into the trap of counting their scores and wondering how could they increase their scoring rate in order to win the championship. Looking back, now that the championship is over, and it is always easier looking back, the key to Castlehaven’s success was not in accumulating big score lines, it was all about conceding very little.
In a streak of remarkable consistency, Castlehaven conceded only nine points in five games of the six championship games they played. (As I said earlier, Newcestown’s nine points was actually 1-6 which is only seven scores). To emphasise the fine line Castlehaven kept between victory and defeat, they failed to win the only game in the championship where they conceded 10 scores. This was against the ‘Barrs in the drawn quarter final.
Even though Duhallow did not show it in their tactical play last Sunday, they scored reasonably well throughout the six and half hours of championship football the played this year. (I am excluding the preliminary round games Duhallow played against other divisional sides because the nature of some of these games was non-competitive.) They knocked up 1-20 against Dohenys (after extra time) and scored 0-13 twice against Douglas (also a replay) and O’Donovan Rossa.
Going into last Sunday’s final, Duhallow were averaging 14.3 scores per game and Castlehaven were averaging 10. The “Haven only managed eight scores on Sunday but crucially one of these was a goal. With the defence only conceding nine points, 1-7 was enough to win.
Goals have become very scarce in the Cork Senior Football county finals since the turn of the century. Last Sunday was the 13th final since 2000 and Shane Nolan’s 58th minute goal last Sunday was only the 15th goal scored in all those finals.
Should this be a cause for concern? It probably should, as it could be argued that the trend of failing to score goals is also a feature of the Cork senior football team. It also suggests that most club teams in Cork are very defensive minded. As we have seen this is not a problem for Castlehaven. They now have won two titles in the 21st century. They have achieved this by scoring the lowest and second lowest scores of any winning teams (1-9 against Clonakilty’s 1-7 was the ‘Havens other winning score in 2003).
Aside from Castlehaven’s achievements however, the lack of goals suggests that Cork senior clubs are not producing marquee forwards of serious goal scoring potential. Colm O’Neill, who is undoubtedly the most likely Cork player to score a goal, plays junior club football with Ballyclough.
Thanks to Nemo Rangers, (six Munster titles since 2000) this lack of goal scoring has not been reflected in the Munster Club Championship records, but the number of All-Ireland club titles coming south has all but dried up. Nemo Rangers were the last Cork and Munster team to win the club title in 2002.
The fact that the Cork Senior Championship can be won by a low scoring team is not a poor reflection on Castlehaven. They are efficiency personified. It is their duty is to do their best with the players available to them. It is more a commentary on the nature of Gaelic Football in general at present. Unless playing attacking football will get teams a greater reward than a defensive style, goals will remain scarce. As our selector told my teammate all those years ago, “you get more reward for scoring a poor point than you do for missing a spectacular one.”