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Talking tactics

Sport

Talking tactics

Peter Ford Interview
Mike Finnerty

WE have been talking for almost thirty minutes when Peter Ford glances at his watch. Galway are training tonight and he wants to pop home before leaving for the 45 minute spin from Castlebar to Tuam.
Peter FordHe leans back in his chair as the interview tapers off. He looks relaxed and comfortable in his jeans, a crisp white shirt and a fashionable jacket. There are ten days remaining to the Connacht Final and he will look as unruffled then as he is now. His face betrays no emotion, his body language is understated and languid. He listens intently.
That’s Peter Ford; cool, calm, composed. Nerves? Him? Well, yes, actually.
“Yeah, I’ll be nervous and tense next Sunday,” he says matter-of-factly. “People don’t think I’ll be, but I will. People might assume that you’re calm but you’re not. It’s how you deal with it. It won’t overwhelm me.
“I’ll go to bed nervous the night before and I’ll wake up nervous. It’ll be the same as when I was playing. The same thing happens your body in the dressing-room, during the national anthem…But you enjoy that because you know you’re in the right frame of mind.”
Ford (44) has always been admired as a manager but his reputation has been gilded even further in the past 14 months as Connacht U-21 and senior titles were delivered, along with an All-Ireland U-21 championship.
Three victories in competitive fixtures over Mayo in the space of twelve months has only served to add to the veneer. Mayo supporters now talk about his tactical awareness, his analytical approach, and his knowledge of the inner workings and psyche of this county’s football.
Has he figured Mayo out? He smiles at the notion.
“I’ve seen Mayo play three times this year, the two matches we had against them and the Leitrim game. They’ve completely different systems now from last year, the ‘nuts’ or whatever you want to call it…that’s nothing like what Mayo teams did before.
“Whether it works for them or not I don’t know. It didn’t work against us both times we’ve played but, at the same time, Mayo have only lost to Dublin and ourselves this year so it’s worked most of the time. It may not be because of that system of playing that they lost to us either. That system obviously works against good teams and may work against us on Sunday.
“I wouldn’t be naïve enough to think that that’s the way Mayo are going to play the next day. They could change everything, we might too. You’re going to have to come up with things and improvise.”
Improvisation has long been one of Ford’s hallmarks. He studies, he decides, and he acts. He admits that during a game he notices nothing, except what goes on inside the white lines. The crowd is a blur, the noise is a murmur and the distractions are non-existent. He is in the zone.
“I enjoy it for big games,” he explains. “But you can’t be at that level for every match, for FBD League matches for example. If you did that you’d drive yourself mad. Obviously for the Connacht Final you leave no stone unturned. Myself and the management team will go through everything, spend lots of time with the players, everything will be thrashed out. The game is too important to take a risk on being careless. If you lose the Connacht Final there’s an air of depression, and there’ll be doubts.”

IN his former lives as a Mayo footballer and selector, and as a manager with Ballinrobe and Sligo, Peter Ford never lacked faith in his own ability. He played from the front, acted on instinct, and got things done. His tenure as Galway manager has been marked by efficiency too.
“I don’t lack confidence,” says Ford. “I’m not going to be shouting or roaring but I know I have good players and a good management team and we work well together.
“I’m confident that I can get a group to work together, avoid conflict, and sort things out when things get tough.
“Respect and enjoyment come from that. Our lads always enjoy training. They’re always there on time, they don’t know what they’ll be doing, and they always want to train longer. That’s a good sign.
“You need to be lucky with the group of players you have,” he adds. “I’m very fortunate because even though the Galway lads have All-Irelands, All-Stars won…they’ll do anything. They’re not looking for short cuts or the easy way out. It’s very easy when you have motivated players, there’s no laziness or arrogance there. There’s no people living in the past.”
Galway, courtesy of their big wins and even bigger personalities, are one of the marquee names in Gaelic football. But their manager prefers the training ground to the interview circuit, to be surrounded by his players rather than microphones and flash-bulbs.
So how long can he keep organising, driving, phoning, planning and talking? “I don’t think like that,” he says. “I’m only concerned with this year. Am I enjoying it? It’s hard work. You only enjoy the day of the match and maybe the following day. After that you’re back to planning, organising, getting ready for the next game. You get a day and a half enjoyment after every match before it’s back to the rigmarole.”

AND so to Sunday. The only sound coming from the Mayo camp in recent weeks has been silence. The hat-trick of successive defeats to Galway, allied to their alarming second half collapse against Leitrim, has meant for a strangely subdued build-up.
Peter Ford lives in Castlebar, teaches in Headford, and has been out and about like the rest of us. He senses something different too, and acknowledges that criticism of Galway’s approach by Mayo’s management after the team’s last meeting has added an extra dimension to this next encounter.
“I suppose it’s been unusual in the sense that we’ve played so much this year,” he muses. “There was a bit of loose talk too after the league semi-final which is probably going to add to the tension. It’s not that I paid any heed to the comments because I think most people knew they were false.
“Any Mayo people I spoke to, Mayo people through and through, they didn’t see anything unusual about our approach. It was a league semi-final and we wanted to win it. Maybe we wanted to win it a bit more than they did.
“We tried as hard we could, we chased down, and we did the things you’d expect a motivated team to do. There wasn’t a dirty belt struck in the game, the referee had nothing to deal with, no-one said a thing about it.
“If we lose a match I’ll keep my mouth shut and we’ll get out of there. There’s no point blaming anyone. It doesn’t do the players any good either. I’m sure the lads just wanted to get out of there and get back training.
“But, in fairness to John Morrison, from what I know he’s a nice fella and the lads like him. I don’t think he meant anything by the comment…he just put his foot into it.”

H
E talks about football effortlessly, the words cascading out. It makes him tick. Working with players, devising strategies, figuring out opponents, and winning. That must be what drives him on.
“The main reason I’m involved in county football is to try and win an All-Ireland,” he confirms. “I didn’t do it as a player. While I’m with a team that I think can do it, I’ll give it every bit of energy I have.
“Deep down I can see this Galway team winning an All-Ireland inside the next two years. I’d prefer it to be this year because then I could walk away and have it done, if I decided to do that. It’s that challenge that you didn’t achieve as a player that drives you on. I want to experience it once.”
And then he slips away. To Tuam, to Galway, and beyond.

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