Forward Thinking

A forward’s job on any team is simple, isn’t it? Score. Not quite. I wish it was that simple. Were it so, I would probably still be playing. Early in my career, I was taught a valuable lesson by Cathal O’Rourke. He recognised a trend developing in my career and he felt the need to sit me down to discuss it. The trend was not necessarily a bad thing but the conversation made me realise how easy I was to mark. It was simple – I had an eye for goal and, nine out of 10 times, I had goal on my mind when I gained possession. I felt the need to take my man on time after time. I’m sure this infuriated my team-mates. Cathal made me realise the essential art of kicking points, the value of creating movement and the overall importance of making changes to my game. The type of changes that had the potential to take my game to the next level. A vital change he encouraged me to do was to think more about my game and not just to expect things to happen. As part of this thought process, I looked more at my direct opponent’s game, identifying their weaknesses in particular and recognising areas where I could hurt them. This required serious movement and work-rate on my behalf. This also meant mixing my game up like laying the ball off, creating opportunities for my team-mates, shooting for points when the time was right, dragging my man to the sideline to create space, and realising that the goals would eventually come if I started to do all of the above.

The type of movement that I speak about is smart movement. Not just running for the sake of it. Not running in straight lines either. It meant jinking and turning four, five, six or even seven times to ultimately get away from my man and to create time for myself on the ball. This type of movement is so important in an inside forward’s game, particularly in the modern game. Having been at many of Armagh’s games this year, one of the highlights of their campaign for me personally has been watching my former team-mate Ciaran McKeever plying his trade as a full forward. I never thought that I would see him in there at inter-county level having built up his reputation as a teak-tough defender down through the years, but I can assure you all that Ciaran can teach more seasoned forwards a lesson or two on the art of smart creative movement. It really is a joy to watch and to make life easier for all around him, when he goes the ball sticks. There is no doubt that he has learned a lot through experience and also through playing as a defender so knowing the type of movement that creates headaches for defenders is now being inflicted on them by one of their own. Ciaran thinks about how he wants to perform and this leads to the type of movement and effort that he generates in a match. Colm Cooper and Peter Canavan have and had exceptional movement. Both top quality footballers, both top quality thinkers.

A forward’s job, though, is to score for their team and, as mentioned above, that is where the simplicity ends. To get the scores that are going to provide you with that edge over your opponent. Is it standing in your named position and expecting ball to rain in on top of you? Certainly not. It’s about outsmarting your opponent. A defender in the full-back line runs most of the time when the forward decides to make a move so ultimately the inside forward is the decision maker. Yes, he is totally dependent on the service provided but if a player is only prepared to play a stationary role, then the service will rightly be limited. When he has possession, he decides what he does with the ball. The thought process rests with him. The defender has to react to this. There are limitless actions that can add so much value to a forward’s game. A forward that thinks smarter always seems to be the player that is three or four steps ahead of everyone else. A forward that thinks smarter is generally the type of player that can slide a ball underneath the keeper like the Gooch did in this month’s All-Ireland club final. The message is clear – think smarter, become better.

22 thoughts on “Forward Thinking

  • I enjoyed the read.in all ur playing career,did you find a forwards game change, when teams started to play more defenceive

    • Hi Paul, yes absolutely. When I started it was all about a 1 v 1 battle with my marker and obviously as the defensive game set in there was a lot more for a forward to consider. At times you had to prepare to be marked by 2 men so that is when there had to be more thought by the forward.

    • Yes, absolutely the forwards game changed. It’s no longer a case of playing as selected in your position. Sometimes you might be running and checking for 20 mins before you get the ball now but that is exactly what is required. The key is though, when you get that ball you must make something happen and it could be as simple as a handpass to your team mate to get a shot in. Patience nowadays is key.

    • A forward with ambition should certainly be setting themselves a target to score at least 2 points per match. Personally my target was always 3.

  • Hi Steven,
    Well done, good read. I always found the forwards who worked smart were the hardest to mark rather than simply the fastest, biggest etc.
    I find the battle of wits between the man marker specialist and the marks man one of the most enjoyable!

  • Great read Stevie, what’s your opinion on distance shooting in our game. Shea Loye showed an exhibition of this for the un21’s against Down.

    • Long range shooting is key in the modern day. Shea did give an exhibition and I hope for more of the same tomorrow night. It makes blanket defences think a bit more about how they are set up.

    • I played against Philly McMahon late in my career but was not marked by him. He is the type of defender that would challenge a forward and I would have loved a dual with him. You would earn your stripes coming out on top in that battle.

    • David, I believe everyone can be trained to do it but the key to the success of this is how the forwards thinks about what he is going to do. He should try to stay ahead of the play and see things happening in advance so that he knows exactly where to be to get the scores for his team.

  • Very good to hear your perspective on an inside forward. I believe the difference between an excellent intercounty forward and a good forward, is that the excellent one will not sit and wait if double marked or his shooting is off. For example,Murphy and McManus. They don’t sit at 14 or 15 and give out that they are getting abused or lack of ball,they make a change to their game and adapt to the playing conditions.

    • Exactly Ben. All top class forwards are thinking of solutions and not just happy being part of the problem. That’s where their movement really counts.

  • Thanks for the blog Steven. You provided a different perspective on a forward.

    Your movement and scoring ability for Armagh was among the very best I’ve seen in gaelic football. There were plenty of times when you terrorised the defence of my native Down.

  • Stevie fantastic read and very insightful. I coach the u16s at my club in Antrim and was very impressed by Kileavy’s forward play in particular down at last year’s All Ireland Féile. Are there any drills / conditioned games that you have found particularly effectively when coaching forward movement / decision making?
    Go raibh maith agat

    • Hi Mícheál,

      Coaching movement drills sometimes is quite difficult and it certainly takes a lot of time to master. Personally I would have done a lot of short sharp work by myself to improve my own movement. This was by starting short shuttle runs and developing it with cones positioned so I could get sharp twists and turns in. One exercise that you can focus on is to line out your forwards in their normal positions and on your call they must pick up a different position within 5 seconds.

      • Really appreciate your reply Stevie. Great shout on the 5 second positioning idea. Look forward to seeing it in action in our next session. Go raibh maith agat a chara

      • what kind of drill would involve the 5 seconds exercise?Is this a back and forwards situation?

        • Hi Finbarr. Initially it is just the forwards to get them to start to think about their movement a bit more. Once there is an improvement on this then you can incorporate a few defenders in it as you please.

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