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The One Minute Defender Ver 2.5

Posted by Dermot Mc Ardle on

This is a copy of the notes that I had planned to use to focus the videos on the One Minute Defender Course. While this is not complete, I think it is a good starting point. Please excuse any spelling, grammar and punctuation mistakes.

Click Here To Download a PDF Version


Mechanics and First Step

There are 2 fundamentals that every defender needs to have, Good Mechanics and a Quick First Step.

In this chapter I will introduce some concepts that will ensure you have both.

Good Balance is the Corner Stone of All Defending. The Forwards job is to create space for themselves, and in order to do this, they must be able to get the defender off balance.

Like every skill, there is a contextual element to it. So your mechanics will be different in different situations. Thinking about balance and first step, and how to be in the optimum position will dictate how you set up

I have identified 9 different skill sets that players must have

First Step (Anticipation and Acceleration)
When an Athletic Stance should be used
When a Boxer Stance is Better
The Shuffle ( Lateral Movement)
Speed with Vision
Drop Step
Quick stop ( Deceleration)

Hand Positions

Athletic Stance - In order to maintain good balance off the ball, adopt an athletic stance, body low to the ground, Head Over Feet, so that you can move quickly in all directions, and still keep your body centered , while you may be at angles to your opponent, it is still good practice.

Boxer Stance - For Gaelic Football, a Defender must be able a move in a Boxer Like Stance. You never see a boxer standing square to their opponent, in the athletic position. They are poised, one foot behind the other, ready to pounce or react quickly.

Shuffle – Moving your body quickly when in the athletic position

Twisted Running – Running at pace while staying focused on the attacker, and pushing them in a certain direction

Drop Step - learn to drop step, you can always stay balanced and always in control, and more importantly it allows you to have a quick “ First Step” which is fundamental for any defender.

In order to complete the jigsaw, the defender must always be on their toes, when danger is approaching. This can be quite stressful on the Achilles, Soleus, and gastrocnemius. So at times of break in play, players should learn to rest and recover . This will allow you to maintain maximum acceleration right through until the end of a match.

There are times when it is beneficial to adapt the athletic stance, defensive position, particularly when your opponent wins the ball with their back to the goal. This is when you can use the “slide” and “Drop Step” to keep your body between the attacker and the goal…More on this in the next chapters

Try these Boxer Stance and First Step Drills

Boxer Stance Drill

First Step Drill

Slide and Drop Step Drill


Contextual Defending

Some coaches will preach a certain mantra for defending, and it is gospel. But one of the most important things that you can ever realise is that everything in a game is contextual, and it is more important to teach your players to see every play in the context of the current situation than to teach them the “one and only way”. As the old saying goes, there are many ways to skin a cat.

Jim Gavin is renowned for his players sticking with the process. And it is this process that allows for the consistency and performance levels of the Dubs. But even the Dubs must change their Defending Process up from time to time.

Let’s take the best example. 2017 All Ireland Final, Dean Rock kicks a free to put Dublin 1 up.

Lets look at the build up to that free. Kevin Mc Menamon comes running through, and is faced by Lee Keegan. Keegan performs a high risk tackle, that will either result in a turnover, or a free. At that stage of the game, when bodies are tired, it was a high risk decision, and ultimately fatal. The defender should have made a decision based on the context of the game. Last play, Level Match – DON’T GIVE AWAY A SCORABLE FREE.

But what happens after this score, is even more important when it comes to context. Every Dublin player to a man, grabs the nearest Mayo player, and literally bear hugs them, cutting off any opportunity for a short kick out. Was this part of the process that Jim talks about, perhaps. Why did Dublin not adopt this strategy after the first score? Because it’s all about context.

Empowering your players to see danger and opportunity, and then do something about it, is the greatest tool you can teach them.

So what has all of this to do with defending? While I will go through some principles, it is important that you quickly realise that different skill sets are needed in different parts of the field, and a one shoe fits all philosophy is not enough.

By the end of this course, I hope you will have developed you own ideas, methods, and techniques.


Defending Off The Ball

Its all about Probability and understanding your opponent

Before we get started, every defender should understand their opponent or potential opponents. Some coaches will say that we will focus on ourselves. To me, this is madness. By focusing on your opponents, you are focusing on yourself anyway, you only do this to help yourself, and reduce your opponents probability of playing well, and increasing your probability of winning. In the end of the day , it is all about probabilities.

Simple questions like these are vital: ( You will have your own)

Are They a Great Shooter from distance?

Where/How Do They Score Most of Their Points?

Who do they link up with most? i.e when do they make their move for possession. Who do they trust to deliver the ball.

What are their 80% Moves - Most attackers will use 1 or 2 move 80 % of the time to Get the Ball

Where do they like to receive it

When they have the ball with back to goal

When they have the ball running at you

Do They Prefer Their Right or Left side?

What Are Their Weaknesses?

How Do They Respond to Pressure, mental and physical

Accept your opponent will score or have their purple patch – Stay focused on the next play

Where is the ball and where is it moving to?

They cannot catch it if they cannot see it?

By watching the ball, and listening to your teammates , you should always know where the ball is on the pitch. You should also take things into consideration like, what direction is the ball going, who is on it, and then make a decision, but this is a rolling process, and you always need to be adjusting.

For example if a left footed player is soloing across the field from right to left, it is unlikely that they will be able to play a pass into the right hand side of the pitch. You can use this to position your body on the left of your opponent.

Listen Well – Developing a good communication system with your team mates is a must, especially your goalkeeper. Using the numbers of the positions is a great way to communicate. For example, the ball is at 6 means its at the half back line in the middle.

For every defender, at least 80 % of your time will be spent when your opponent does not have the ball, and is trying to get the ball. If you are a good defender, this will be 100% of your time.

Defending off the ball starts with one thing – Contact.

Making contact with your opponent sends out a message, and focuses your mind on your job. I’m not talking about hitting or pulling, I’m talking about hand on/ Body on at all times when your opponent wants the ball, and more importantly, when they don’t want the ball. Invade their space.

It also means that by the time they do receive the ball, they have already expended a lot of energy.

When your opponent is looking for possession, there will generally be 3 positions where the ball will be

  • 1.Not within kicking distance - this is where it will take at least one bounce to reach your opponent
  • 2.Within kicking distance - this is where the ball could be delivered on your opponents chest with a kick pass
  • 3.Within a fist pass - this is where the most probable pass will be a fist pass, or where a kick pass too short

For each of the scenarios above, I would recommend a different defensive position, and the ability to quickly change from one to the other is vital.

For Position 1, I would recommend playing 3-4 yards in front of your opponent, with your body position that you can watch the ball and attacker. For this, you will need full communication from the player behind you. This does two things. Firstly, when the player in possession looks up, they see that there is no kick pass on, so it forces them into an extra touch. Secondly, if the ball is “hoofed” long, you will be in position to be out in front and collect possession.

For Position 2, I would recommend what I call the V defensive position. Constant contact with your opponent, one had behind their back, one hand across the front where the attacker is most likely to want the ball. In essence you are forcing the attacker to where you want them to go, and leaving yourself in the position of maximum probability of winning any ball kicked to the attacker - See, Feel, and anticipate

For Position 3, I would recommend a Full Frontal defensive position. That is , where you are basically eye ball to eye ball. This does 2 things. Number one it places you in an effective position between the ball and your opponent. Secondly it leaves you in a good defensive position, if they do win the ball. This position is generally adopted when your opponent is in the scoring area, and will be looking for handy pass, or a loop. It also ensures you cannot easily be pushed away to create an opportunity to create space.

You Don’t have to win the ball

This is very important thing that you have to understand. Winning the ball from you opponent is great, but preventing them from getting it is good enough.

In fact, you don’t even have to see the ball to prevent them from getting possession. By watching the body language of your opponent, you can easily anticipate when the ball is arriving.

For example when your opponent goes to receive a ball, they will put their hands out or pull their arms toward their body, getting ready for the catch. All you need to do is get a hand in first. You don’t even have to focus on the ball. Focus on the wrist, and making contact with the wrist. 80% of the time, this will be enough to break the ball away, without giving away a free. You should also be ready to snap up the loose ball very quickly.

These balls are balls that look like the attacker will win. If you can manage to win a few of these, it is amazing how quickly the confidence of the attacker will dwindle. BUT, be warned, great attackers will play the long game, knowing that they only need to get a few good balls to punish. This is where you are at your weakest, and you should stay focused and alert


Defending When Your Opponent Has The Ball

So your opponent wins the ball. It happens.

Generally there are 4 different scenarios that you must prepare for

1 . They have their back to goal, and you haven’t committed to the hand in

2. They had their back to goal, and you have committed to the hand in, but they’ve turned and stole a march on you. Your playing catch up

3. They get turned and are attacking you from a standing start

4. They have received the ball and are attacking with momentum

Remember the Possible Outcomes of an attacking situation ( Best to Worst)

Turnover ( strip the ball or attacker over carries)

Delay the attacker until help arrives


A poor quality pass

Non Scorable Free

Wide ( Offer Shot From Poor Location)

Good quality pass


Scorable Free



Scenario 1: Player wins the ball in front of you with their back to goal

In this situation you must try see and feel their movement, by keeping a hand on their lower back and mid rift are. This also lets the player know that you are close.

You should have a good idea of what way the player likes to turn, left or right, and be ready to anticipate this move.

The best outcome for you is that they continue to move away from the goal.

The only real evasion skill available to them is the side step, planting the foot in one direction, before moving to the other.

By maintaining an athletic position and feeling and watching the mid rift, you should be able to stay tight.

Sometimes, depending on the referee, you might be able to execute the “ hug tackle” where you place you arms both sides of the attacker and strip on the ball, as the attacker goes to bounce or solo. This will also prevent the forward from turning

If the hug tackle is not an option, One arm should stay wide, one on the body to feel the movement, and you should be prepared to block the ball, especially if you are plying in the full back line.

Scenario 2:

They had their back to goal, and you have committed to the hand in, but they’ve turned you and stole a yard. You’re playing catch up.

This is probably the most difficult position to defend from, and why sometimes it might just be better to let your opponent win the ball. As you try to regain the ground, you will inevitably come side to side with your opponent, and your first job is to get the player slowed.

By starting with the near hand, you can show the attacker that you have recovered, and depending on where you are next, will depend on what you do. If the player is bearing down on goal, you have to commit to the block.

Other wise, you need to defend like Scenario 4

Scenario 3: 

Player Wins the ball, gets turned and is attacking you from a standing start

It is imperative that you understand what side they prefer, even if they have two feet, there will always be a side.

You also need to consider the side of the pitch you are on, and force them to the area of least probability. You should always over defend on one side. In this way you are taking control.

Your body position now becomes vital, and you must achieve a balance between being close enough that you can block an attempted shot, and far enough away that any evasion skills they use, can be easily adjusted for.

Your feet must be in the boxer stance position, ready to react in a split second.

The best outcomes here is that you turnover the ball, turn the attacker back out again, or have to deal with them running at you with momentum.

Scenario 4 

They have received the ball and are attacking with momentum

When a player is attacking you with momentum, they are in control to start. Your job first becomes taking back control.

To start you should adopt an over defensive position, showing them clearly a side to go down, preferably their weak side.

You must now mimic the momentum of the attacker, and anticipate that they will want to cut back inside.

Most attackers will attack the arms, as they are the weakest points, so it is vital that you align you body with their hips, so that when they “cut” they run into your body.

Initial contact can be made with the near hand, so you get your bearings, but this then becomes a “feeling hand” on the players back. This is a great way to give yourself feedback as to the movement of the attacker, and puts doubts into their head about cutting back.

Everything else now becomes about timing, and knowing what outcome you want to achieve.

Bump and Run and Strip –

Bump with the near hand

Run with them

Strip with the far hand

Focus on the hips

Head over knees

General thoughts about defending an opponent in possession

Your hand is your guide – by using your hand as your guide, you can easily adjust to the movement and position of your opponent

Deny Momentum – Its all about momentum. If your opponent cannot gather momentum, your chances of getting a turnover are greatly increased. So your first job, is to delay your opponent, and take control as soon as possible.

Focus on the hips – They Don’t lie . Players will try all sorts of evasion, but ultimately they will want to return to their centre of gravity , which is where the hips will be. Align your movement to the hips and you will not be too far away

You decide where they go – Take a side, take control. When an attacker is trying to “take you on” , you need to tak control of the situation as best you can. The first thing that you must do is to force them to a side, preferably, their weak side. To do this you should over defend the strong side.

One arm In, One Arm up – By starting your hands in this position, you can both strip the ball, and intercept a fist pass that might go over your head

Not Too Close, Not Too Far – Some forwards like you to come close, so they can evade you using their strength or skill. By staying at the right distance, it makes their evasion skills redundant, and you should also be the correct position to block if needed, or apply pressure to a shot( which can be just as good)

Time Your Tackle – Get into the habit of counting the steps of your opponent, this will allow you to time your tackle when the ball is looser

Pounce after the bounce – When a player takes a solo, they can take another solo or take a bounce next. But when they take a bounce, you know that their next move must be a solo, so it’s a great time to tackle

Stop and Strip – Getting the player in the Frontal Position, with no momentum is your first job. You must then use quick hands to strip the ball away

Wrist and Ball – While the rules say you can only tackle the ball, you should focus on the wrist also

Running Balance – Slightly behind the attacker, so they don’t want to turn back, or if they do, you are better set, especially if they are on their weak side


Mental Rehearsal + Physical Preparation using a team mate

Preparation is the key to coming out the right side of your battle, and we have already outlined some of the questions you can ask yourself or your coach in order to prepare better.

Once you have these questions, it is vital that you both mentally and physically prepare.

Mental Preparation – Simply sit down, close your eyes and imagine your opponent doing the various things they do

Now imagine yourself performing at your best, counteracting these things

Run through each 2-3 times

Physical Preparation

Forwards will spend 10 minutes before training focusing on scoring, you should spend 10 minutes focusing on defending.

10 minutes before your training session, you should arrange with a team mate to physically go through your rehearsal.

Ask you team mate to mimic a closely as possible the things that your opponent will do, or other things that you want to work on.

This can be done slowly at first, and then some pace added

By marrying both physical and mental preparation, you can gain an edge over your opponent


Reading The Game and help Defence

The greatest defenders had a knack of being in the right position at the right time. “He was a great reader of the game” is something that we associate with great players.

Reading the game was much easier when the ball was often kicked long from the half back line.

In order to read any game, you must apply the principles outlined in defending off the ball and some others

Another aspect of great readers of the game, is the ability to know that your direct opponent is not a threat and get yourself in a position of help.

Some of the questions we must always be asking is

How many passes away is my opponent from getting possession – 1 pass, I’m tight, 2 passes, looser, etc

Is my opponent in a threatening position if they do receive the ball

How much of threat is my opponent in this position

Lets take an example. If you are playing in the half back line and midfielders are jumping for a kick out from your opponents end, there is a chance the ball will go over the top. You will actually be able to judge this by the way the competing players jump for the ball. In anticipation of this, you should be playing 3-4 yards in front of your opponent

What are the possible outcomes of a situation, what is the probable outcome that I can anticipate for.

Tempting the player in possession –

When a team is running the ball from defence, they will probably always be looking to move the ball forward quickly with the foot. If you are playing in front of your opponent, it is sometimes beneficial to let the player in possession to catch a glimpse of your opponent. In this way you are tempting them, making them think you are out of position. We all know players who think they are better kick passers than they are. This will work best when one of those types of players is in possession. In this case you should quickly move to the place where the ball will be kicked, before your opponent can get there. This can mostly be achieved when you show the player and your opponent that a ball towards the side line is on. In this case the worst thing that can happen is that you are defending an opponent 30 yards from goals, on the sideline.

Playing help defence.

Help defence is mainly about communication. When your own opponent is not a threat and you have committed yourself to help your team mate. You need to talk.

Your team mates job is to slow down the momentum of the player in possession, and “turn” them into you, where you execute a tackle on the ball, or both of you gather around force an over carry, or the player to pass to another player in a position of less opportunity.

Discipline is key in these situations. It is criminal to give away a free if you have a 2v1 situation


Playing the Sweeper

Let’s face it, the sweeper is going to be part and parcel of the game, whether we like it or not. So it needs to be addressed. Some teams play the sweeper really well, and for other teams it becomes a liability.

The sweeper takes on 4 roles during any attacking sequence.

  • 1.Be in a position to deny a clear ball into the attacker on the ball side, or side the ball has come from if the ball is in the middle. i.e. when the player in possession looks up, there is no pass on down the line
  • 2.Intercept any poorly hit, or under hit pass
  • 3.Play help defence if the attacker does win possession
  • 4.Meet the ball coming through if the opposition decide to run the ball

Mental Readiness For The Bad Times

One of the most important things you can do as a defender is quickly realise that your opponent will get possession and your opponent may score, and be mentally prepared for this.

Sometimes, the strategy that you had planned, will not work, and you need to adjust quickly.

Games last 60 – 78 minutes, so there is always times to recover.

From a physical point of view, if you are struggling with an opponent early on, it is vital that you get on the ball, and put your forward on the back foot. In fact this should be a strategy throughout. Remember, it’s all about taking control.

You must be all the time learning like Artificial Intelligence. AI is problem solving all the time, using past experiences to find a different way. But the beauty about AI, is that emotion does not get in the way. They don’t feel sad, happy etc, they just focus on the task at hand, implementing what they have just learned.

Confidence can drain from defenders if forwards score 2 or 3 times in quick succession, but feeling angry or embarrassed will not help the situation. Keep your head up, and use the “over confidence” your opponent will have to your advantage. Keep in mind, forwards always take their foot off the pedal, and for any forward to score 3 points in a half from play, they will think they have enough done. It is then when you can change the momentum back to you, and once this changes, it is hard for the forward to regain it.

This is very often what happens when you hear “ he got to grips with him”


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