April 25, 2024

How to Play Half Back with Mayo GAA star Eoghan McLaughlin

Half back, or wing back, is one of the most important postions in GAA (football or hurling) right now.

For a lot of young, up and coming GAA players, they really want to know how to play half back.

The position is the perfect blend of attacking and defending.

With a good aerobic base and ball skills, they can contribute at both ends of the field.

Intersport Elverys is delighted to picked the brains of Mayo GAA star and rampaging wing back, Eoghan McLaughlin, to share some advice and guidance on how to play the position.

Before you read on, his teammate Ryan O’Donoghue talks to us on how to play corner forward in this blog.

Understanding the role of a Half Back in GAA

According to Westport native McLaughlin, the role of a modern day half back is ‘to defend first and foremost’ but ‘then just give a good platform to the forwards to get scores’.

It is a position that has evolved massively in the past decade, with the likes of McLaughlin’s former Mayo teammate Lee Keegan and Dublin’s Jack McCaffrey revolutionising the role.

As McLaughlin, a former National Junior Cyclist, points out, it has became the springboard for most team’s attacks, while the traditional element of defending remains the same.

Mayo gaa star eoghan Mclaughlin tells us how to play half back

“From an attacking point of you, you are expected to be breaking lines, acting as that support runner for forwards create space for them while you also have to be able to take your scores when the opportunities come about.

“Defensively, I am obviously then trying to keep my man as quiet as possible, and also to make sure what I am doing is fitting in to the defensive principles of the team as well.”

Learning How to Play Half Back

McLaughlin’s path to the rampaging half back he is in the GAA started differently than most.

He was late to the game, having being involved at the top level of cycling in Ireland until 2018 when he decided he’d try Gaelic football.

That meant he had a lot of ground to make up in terms of the basic skills required to play and he needed extra sessions courtesy of former Mayo manager James Horan and Mayo GAA legend Ciaran McDonald.

“I came to football late,” he said. “James Horan was manager of Westport at the time. We used to train Tuesdays and Thursdays and then he used to meet me on Mondays and Wednesdays in Westport to do skills sessions.

“It started with three or four of us and it just ended up being me and him, working on different skills and elements of the game.

mayo gaa star eoghan mclaughlin shares his advice on how to play half back and the basic skills

“Then when I was involved with Mayo, Ciaran McDonald used to come to Westport and work on skills with me. We’d go through different game scenarios in terms of my positional sense on the pitch, and what to do when certain situations occur.

“It was very good.

“As a wing back, and this might sound weird, but I really hate marking a wing forward who actually plays that position. Usually they drop back and you get loads of space and time on the ball, but when they push up it’s different!”

What are the main skills you need as a half back to play GAA?

McLaughlin says that focusing on the basic skills is what all young players should be doing as a half back.

“As a wing back you’re going to be breaking lines and taking players on one-v-one, so having good basic skills is a must,” he said.

“You should be working on these everyday – kicking, soloing, catching and handpassing. The first part of all our training sessions with Mayo is 20 minutes of basic skill work.

Mayo gaa star eoghan mclaughlin on how to play half back and how to work on the most important basic skills

“left hand, right hand, left foot , right foot, different tackling techniques, the high ball. This is hugely beneficial when you do it over and over again.

“I also bring a ball with me into the gym so I can work of handpassing and handling in between sets.”

Advice for Good Tackling Technique as a Half Back?

With the physical demands in inter-county and club football at an all-time high right now, tackling is a crucial component of the game.

McLaughlin highlighted that tackling and ‘good positional play’ now go hand-in-hand as a modern-day half back must be able to defend as a unit and an individual now.

“In terms of the tackle, you need to first see where the main threats are and where the ball is on the pitch,” he said.

“If the ball is over the far side of the pitch, you can afford to step off your main as a wing back and fitting into the team’s defensive unit, helping out the full backline and preventing kick passes.

“When the ball shifts across, you then have to press up and in terms of getting the tackle right, it’s about reading it and trusting your instincts for when to tackle and when to step off.

“When you do get in the tackle, it’s about getting in their face, taking his time away from the ball and influencing his game.

“You want to be the aggressor, be that stripping the ball back or slowing the man down.”

Interestingly, McLaughlin’s teammate Mattie Ruane had similar views in this blog on How to play as a Midfielder. 

The Physical Demands of Playing Half Back in the GAA

Wing back is one of the most physically demanding positions on the GAA pitch.

Inter-county players are expected to cover north of 10km in a full game – at a minimum really.

McLaughlin is renowned for his athleticism and running ability and recently against Roscommon in the 2024 National Football League, ran for over 600m at 25km above.

“Being a wing back is tough on the body,” he laughed.

“Probably one of the most important things as a wing back is being able to get up and down the field.

“I don’t follow our GPS stats that much,  but I saw I hit 600 metres of Zone 6 running (25kmh+) against Roscommon and then I obviously pulled my hammer doing it! So that’s a very high end.

“But the majority of your good runs need to be in the Zone 5 and Zone 6 categories, which is over 75%. It’s hard running and much different to a full back who are doing short aggressive runs over and over again, ours are long.

“That’s where scores come from – being able to get up and support the play, break a line or get on the end of an attack.

Advice for Young GAA Players Learning How to Play Half Back?

McLaughlin’s advice is simple – do the basics well and play as a team.

And stay out of the gym!

“If you’re playing wing back or half back, learn to play with the team and how to get the best out of your teammates.

“That means, for example, if I am playing with Ryan O’Donoghue, knowing how he likes to receive the ball to help get the best out of him. And that might be different to how Paul Towey wants to receive it.

“Every player has different trademarks in that sense.

“But it’s also all about working on the basic skills. The younger generation now are very focused on the gym but you really don’t need to be at that age. I didn’t start gyming until I was 19.

“Nowadays kids are starting at 13 and 14. They should be nailing the basic skills because size and strength will come. There is much better value in doing ball work.”

Conclusion

Mayo GAA star McLaughlin is an excellent example of a footballer who started out with little skill, and put the work in to improve himself.

In a few short years he managed to work his way into the Mayo senior set up.

If you’re interest in learning more about Gaelic Football Positions check out our blog on that.

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