This weeks Coaching Corner written by Peter Casey
The high ball
In the aftermath of defeat there is always a big opportunity to reflect on the health of games within a county. Having being closely involved with the under 21 and intermediate hurling teams this year, now is a time for our management team to engage in such a process. One glaring deficiency in Clare hurling at the moment is our failure to win the high ball in big games at all levels. Having watched the Kilkenny v Waterford matches there is a stark contrast in the amount of successful high catches these players are securing in comparison to various Clare teams in competition this year.
While there are a number of ways available to players to secure possession in matches, a high catch under pressure often seems to be worth more to a team than the fact a player has gained control of the ball. It can lift the spirits of supporters and team mates which can boost the confidence of your team and at the same time can have a deflating effect on the opposition. A catch followed by good use of possession and a score can turn the whole crowd into overdrive for that instant.
Every development squad and county squad over the past 5 years has identified the high ball as being an area of focus and as far as I’m aware we have given a lot of attention to it. This years under 21 and intermediate panels worked on the high ball at every training session and for a long time during the year it appeared that we had made significant improvement in that area. However when we analyse the two defeats – against Waterford at under 21 level and against Kilkenny in the All Ireland Intermediate final – it is obvious that we were well behind a number teams in the aerial duals.
There are a number of facets of the game where we are very strong. In my opinion we have players and management, at all levels, who are so dedicated to a lifestyle of training and preparation for hurling. We have focused much of our physical training on mobility and movement. We have also concentrated heavily on the development of close skills like rising, first touch and passing. These are still vital components of the game. Good catchers of the ball also need to be able to use possession or the big benefit they bring to the game can be quickly nullified by the opposition.
Instead of blaming anyone it is now time to identify how we’re going to become competitive in the air on a consistent basis in the future. I don’t claim to have all the answers but these are the thoughts I have based on reflections over the past few weeks. The really impressive thing about Kilkenny is how they have an identifiable style which is simple, efficient and effective. Their senior, under 21’s, intermediates and minors play to a similar style but so too do many of their club teams as we can see in the provincial and All Ireland club championship games. It is based on the fundamental principal that in order to play for Kilkenny you must be able to win your own ball.
The following would help us in that area
1. That every hurling team in Clare devote as much time to high ball as we do to rising or first touch activities.
2. That we provide opportunities in every session to practice high catching – uncontested, semi-contested and fully contested.
3. Children should be taught the correct catching mechanism – arm extended, fingers pointing towards the sky, claw catch.
4. That we award skill points for catching at every under 10 go games blitz and consider introducing it at under 11 also. This will incentivise high catching for all children.
5. That we separate the skills of catching from protection. Too many children are taught protection before they can catch.
6. That we encourage our young players to strike the ball more and handpass less.
7. That we discourage young players from hitting short puckouts. Short puckouts deny players the opportunity of competing for high balls.
8. That we dismiss the notion that forwards should get low ball. Always hitting low balls to forwards denies everyone (backs and forwards) the opportunity of competing for high balls.
9. That we coach high jumping and good landing techniques.
10. That we teach players how to practice by putting their hand to the ball firstly.
11. That we use correct equipment to take away the risk of injury for players – bean bags for beginners, bean balls for under 8’s, quick touch balls under 10’s, smart touch balls under 12’s. Introducing hard sliotars to young children hasn’t worked for the last 20 years. If every child is catching a smart touch ball by 12 years of age we will be making huge progress.
In order for players to improve catching players need a regular supply of high balls. Coaches should find opportunities to introduce high catching in warm ups, games, skills challenges and practice routines. Sometimes we think that players need to catch balls that are struck from 60 yards away. A regular supply of thrown balls that gets a player off the ground is the best type of ball to learn and practice the technique of jumping and catching.
If every coach in Clare does their bit to improve the level of catching of their players we will see results. However we also need to remain patient with this process. As players get better at developing their catching skills, coaches will get better at coaching it. Over the winter months we will endeavour to hold a number of workshops and some will emphasise how to coach the high ball. In my experience all coaches operating in our county care passionately about the future of Clare hurling. Wouldn’t it be brilliant if we could all play our part so that our players become proficient in high catching?