GAA cornerbacks; Stop giving your man a head start!

The False Truth 

We’ve all been there: playing corner-back marking a tricky forward, and just not being able to get out and win the ball ahead of him. It leaves you thinking ”If only I was a little bit faster, I need to get a little bit faster!”. Also, everyone has heard the ‘aul fellas’ on the line shouting ”Get out in front, get out in front” as your competing with a corner-forward for a ball that has been kicked in. The next thing they’ll shout is ”goal side…get goal side of your man!” if he wins the ball. It’s not their fault: the traditionalists have been drilling these false truths into corner-backs heads for years. Playing corner-back can in fact be a lot easier. You just have to do the exact opposite of what you’ve ever been told to do and play out in front of your man, between him and the ball.

Never give a sucker an even break

Think about it: when you’re a corner-back, a large part of your match is making short snappy bursts in what is effectively a race to the ball with your opposite number. Imagine if you were running a race against a friend. At the start, where would you be standing? I’m sure the answer is right beside him at the starting line, you might even sneak a few inches. You’d even stand in front of him if you could. Certainly the last place you’d stand would be behind him! That would be crazy… Then don’t do it when playing corner-back either.


Allow me to paint the picture. The friend you’re racing against is the corner-forward and that finishing line is the ball. The winner gets to the ball first. So stand between your man and the ball! Particularly, if the ball is very far out the pitch and the other team has a policy of launching in long balls. Give yourself the head start in that race. I know this is somewhat daunting at first:  it will pay off, don’t be scared and stand a good few yards in front. I even allow my default body position to be facing the man, after all it’s him getting the ball you want to stop. If this sounds crazy to you think of the GAA’s american football equivalent, who is also named the corner-back. His job is very similar to his Irish counterpart, very simply cover the wide receiver and stop them from catching the ball. Do they stand behind their man? No, never. They always want to be between the ball and the quarterback and are looking to make that interception. To me this is a direct comparison to the ball being kicked into a full or corner-forward.

If you’re not already convinced, allow me walk you through a play, The Midfielder/Quarterback gets the ball. They look inside for a pass. The inside forward/ wide receiver makes a run. The ball is played in and the corner-backs in both sports must make a tackle and attempt to intercept the ball.

Good backs gone bad

Playing from behind can make great corner-backs look very average. This was very apparent when I watched Kildare v Longford in Mullingar 2 years ago. It was a wet, miserable day, and I remember vividly watching Mick O’Grady standing behind Brian Kavanagh in a one man full back line. I thought ”Mick…it’s a wet ball and a heavy sod and you’re twice as fast as Brian, stand in front and back yourself”. Low and behold it happened…time and time again. Long ball into Brian, bouncing in front of him. Mick was faster but Brian was bigger and heavier. Mick just couldn’t get around him. Brian Kavanagh drew free after free and possession after possession. Now Mick had an average match and Kildare did go on to hammer them that day, but I watched on thinking Mick O’Grady should have eaten that guy for breakfast and laid down a statement for himself given his ability.

The only argument I’ve heard against playing out in front is ”what if the ball gets kicked over my head?”. Firstly, the pass would have to be hit by a doctor of geometry to land it over your head, to your man in the full forward line, and keep it in play. Secondly, if this does happen, run around your man again and stand him up. It’s better than letting him win it and then just standing him up anyway. If the forward is going to win the ball, make them earn it.

corner-back in my opinion is the hardest and most honest position on the pitch. If you play bad or have a stormer, it tends to be very apparent and there is rarely an inbetween. In short there is no hiding place and the forward only has to be lucky once.  Do yourselves a favour lads, start playing in front while you have time to learn. Don’t only figure this out when your pace is gone and you can’t play corner-back anymore.

In this writer’s opinion it is the difference between being great and just average to good.

By Cathal Fitzpatrick, BA Business & Sports ( GAA ).