Following the fortunes of a team in any sport is, in large part, a thing of the heart, an emotional rollercoaster that can fling you euphorically skywards but can equally plunge you to the depths of despair. It’s not uncommon, indeed, to experience both emotions over the course of a single afternoon.
From the supporter’s standpoint, it’s difficult to feel like anything other than a helpless bystander as your team battles it out on the pitch. We drink deeply from their successes, boy do we share the pain of their defeats but apart from making a ruckus in the stands and perhaps directing some unparliamentary language in the direction of the match officials, we’re essentially observers of the contests we see unfolding.
Following Mayo over the years I used to love getting lost in the major battles of the summer, emerging as if from a trance once the final whistle had sounded and then trying to make some coherent sense out of what I’d just witnessed. Since taking on the yoke that is this site almost six years ago, I now find myself slightly more detached from proceedings – as I know I’ll be writing about the game before my head hits the pillow that night – but I know too what that I’ll have to say will be uttered from the standpoint of a supporter. As such, it’ll invariably be partisan and, more than likely, bordering on passionate.
Emmet Ryan’s take on Gaelic football starts at the opposite end of the spectrum. The easy option for him would – given his roots – have been to write about the action in a Dublin-centric way but instead he’s chosen a harder and more demanding spot on which to pitch his tent. What Emmet has done, first through his ‘Tactics Not Passion’ column on his blog Action81.com and now through his book of the same name, is to strip away all of the emotion surrounding the major matches of the year and to focus instead on the contrasting tactics that the different teams have sought to deploy once the ball has been thrown in.
The result is a forensic analysis of the strategies employed in every match that counted in 2012, a year where, arguably, new systems of playing counted like never before. Starting with the club championships and building through the NFL and provincial championships, Emmet then guides us onto the totemic clashes in the All-Ireland series that defined the summer just gone.
Pride of place, understandably, goes to Jimmy McGuinness and his Donegal team, a side that adopted what Emmet labels a “45-45” approach to the game but which eventually came out on top in September by successfully bolting on a devastatingly effective attacking capability to the obdurate defence they had near-perfected in 2011.
Reading back through Emmet’s account of each of Donegal’s matches and appreciating how their successful implementation of Jimmy’s game plan saw them clear hurdle after hurdle on the way to Sam, it’s tempting to conclude that there was perhaps an inevitability to their success this year. But I guess that’s always the ways with winners – their virtues amplified and their faults glossed over.
From our perspective, it’s obviously interesting to read Emmet’s take on our year, which spans those Spring clashes in Croke Park with Kerry and Cork as well as our march to yet another unrequited tilt at Sam in the All-Ireland final. Emmet highlights our strategy of isolating opposition ball-carriers as core to our success this year but he puts our defeat in the decider down to more obvious failings, such as Donegal’s early scoring burst and our inability to take whatever chances were afforded to us over the seventy minutes. On both counts, I think it’s a fair assessment of what we got right this year and what we ultimately got wrong.
‘Tactics Not Passion’ is what it says it is – a book that examines in detail the game plans that the various managers brought to the table in 2012 and which focuses on this element of the game to the exclusion of all other factors, such as dodgy refereeing, fortunate bounces of the ball and all the rest. To some, that might make for heavy going but the analysis is crisp and to the point throughout and the references to the likes of General George Patton, the effectiveness of the longbow at Agincourt and the 1812 Overture provide some nicely-judged external focus to the discussion.
In a market which tends to be dominated by soulless, ghostwritten mediocrity, ‘Tactics Not Passion’ is a shining light and I certainly don’t expect to read a better book on Gaelic football anytime soon. It goes without saying that the book would, of course, make a great Christmas present for the GAA nerd that’s nearest and dearest to you.
Emmet Ryan’s ‘Tactics Not Passion’ is available in paperback priced €15 at Original Writing (details here) and as an e-book on Amazon (details here) and other online stores. To contact Emmet directly about ordering a copy, look him up on Twitter @action81.