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Men’s Soccer

Defense proves vital to postseason success

| Tuesday, November 11, 2014

There is an old saying in sports that, while offensive firepower is good to have to start the year off strong, defense wins championships in the end.

That mantra can be found in sports of all types, and it was definitely prevalent for the Irish last season, as they rode a strong defensive team for the first national championship in program history.

And now, midway through the ACC championships, the No. 4 Irish look to continue that strong run. They knocked off No. 15 Virginia on Sunday, 3-0, in the tournament quarterfinals for their first victory against the Cavaliers in seven tries as a program.

As graduate student defender Andrew O’Malley noted, the defense has played a crucial role in this season as well.

“I thought the defense played really well this weekend against the Cavaliers,” O’Malley said. “They are a really dangerous team in transition, and the defense really locked it down in that regard.  I also think we defended their crosses well and had a really organized defense. [I] really need to commend the whole back line for that performance.”

Graduate student defender Andrew O’Malley scans the field during a 1-0 home loss to Kentucky on Sept. 8.Emmet Farnan

Graduate student defender Andrew O’Malley scans the field during a 1-0 home loss to Kentucky on Sept. 8.

It has been a consistent source of strength for the Irish. Their defense has recorded seven shutouts on the season, and O’Malley has been one of the linchpins that have held the team together. However, O’Malley is not one to take credit.

“It really is a team effort with us though, not just the back four,” O’Malley said. “I think we can attribute our defensive prowess to everyone on the team knowing their role and staying focused without the ball. I think the success of a program really depends on a consistent defense, and I think we are bringing that this year.”

Considering that the Irish defense contains a majority of seniors and upperclassmen, including O’Malley, that have played together for a long time, one would think they would just rely on and react instinctively to one another’s ability. But O’Malley said their position doesn’t allow such a luxury.

“I don’t think there is ever a time where you don’t need to communicate on defense — that kind of thing is left to the attackers,” O’Malley said. “That being said, I do think since we are so experienced, we know each other tendencies. That can lead to making the correct decision in those split-second moments in soccer where there isn’t time to communicate.  Otherwise, we are always talking in the back and keeping each other accountable.”

That group of upperclassmen won’t be a part of the program forever, and O’Malley said he and the other veterans have taken it upon themselves to prepare the next wave of players to take on greater roles within the team.

“I think we just really try to keep the young guys part of the team and make sure anything that we are working on, they are working on, too,” O’Malley said. “It’s not just about the guys playing at this very moment; it’s about everyone on the team.”

With the NCAA tournament beginning in just over a week and wrapping up in mid-December, the Irish season is starting to wind down, and for O’Malley, this will be the last time he suits up for Notre Dame. Even though he already has won a national title, the graduate student said he still has a job to finish with Notre Dame and isn’t ready to look back on his accomplishments.

“I will get back to you on that one in about a months time,” he said.

The Irish resume play in the ACC semi-finals on Friday against Clemson in Cary, North Carolina at 5:30 p.m.

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