There has been considerable comment on this blog on the use of the substitutes by James Horan. Some comments have expressed uncertainty as to James’ approach, others have been quite critical of his approach. This article looks at the purpose and use of substitutes, the options that available to any manager and the constraints under which the managers operate when deciding where, when and how to use substitutes.
There are three basic strategies regarding substitutions:
1. Direct replacements
This is used when one of the original players runs out of steam, gets injured, is having a bad day, or when the game is won and he is being saved for the next day. Managers generally cover this by having a number of key replacements to cover goalie, full-back, utility back, midfielder and a utility forward. (By using the word “utility” I’m suggesting that they are likely to fit into a number of positions.) In the Mayo set-up these are O’Malley, McHale, Harrison, Gibbons and Varley.
2. Plan changers
These are the guys that you bring on when you want to change the tactics on the field. Sweeney coming on for Freeman against Dublin in the League is an example. Dublin use this as their first strategy, sometimes replacing a midfielder and a forward at the same time to ensure that the right type of ball is fed in. It’s the best strategy when you have a very strong bench and you want break the game up into segments – again Dublin is the best example at present. We don’t tend to use it that much although Freeman has been used to good effect in the last two games in this way.
3. Late changes
A variation of 1 and 2 combined, normally used in the last ten minutes to keep the pressure on or to provide a new angle for the opposition’s tiring legs/heads to deal with. Generally it lifts the crowd and gives the lads on the field a boost as the tiredness begins to set in. Andy and Alan coming on against Roscommon was an example of this.
As we can all observe, James is very much in the first camp, but he is not averse to dabbling in the second or third approaches either, though many people would suggest that he should go there more often. So why doesn’t he? Which brings me to the constraints.
Well firstly, he knows the lads better than everyone else and he is aware of what they can do. He will have tried them out in a number of roles in training and he will be convinced that the man coming on is the best man for the job. Secondly, he will also be wary that trying something new in the heat of battle is a very high risk strategy and this can lead to conservative choices. Thirdly, he has to balance his choices with those of the opposition.
So you have a young attacking midfielder in your subs but they have a fella on their bench who won an All-Star at midfield two years ago. What do you do? Who will blink first?
It is hugely important to have as many leaders and cool heads on the pitch when the final stage of the battle is in full swing, but a surprise to put the opposition management thinking is a tempting prospect. It’s a high risk game that involves playing your trumps at the right time and balancing playing the full hand against keeping one last ace in reserve – just in case!
It’s a very difficult call to use substitutes correctly. Personally, I would love to see James using the second strategy more as sometimes, like many other commentators, I think he shuffles the deck and still plays the same cards. But then I’m not the man who has to weigh everything up, work out the permutations and pull the strings at the right time to get the desired result. I don’t envy him, it’s a hugely difficult job, but I wish him every success in Mayo’s drive to September.
Keep the Faith!