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Wed 13-Jul-2005 21:47
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Body Language Told It All
There was a great atmosphere in Ennis last Sunday for the hurling qualifier tie between Clare and Waterford…
The superb weather, the legions of Déise supporters and the proximity of Cusack Park to the attractive town centre all contributed to a wonderful and colourful spectacle. Hasten the day when such occasions become the norm when the All-Ireland championship inevitably moves to an outright round-robin system. Before that transpires, though, all main grounds will have to install adequate seating, which Cusack Park does not have.
Other criticisms of the Ennis stadium voiced elsewhere on this site are simply unfounded. Judging by the distance between the halfway line and the 65 metre lines, Cusack Park must be one of the longest pitches in Ireland and there was no problem with width either that this writer could discern. There is also an excellent surface, and An Moltóir has always felt that Cusack Park is one of the best hurling grounds in the country.
As for the match itself, Clare clearly wanted to win it more, and duly did so. Their first touch was good, they won all of the contests once the ball hit the ground, and they drove forward with great purpose when in possession. Waterford, by contrast, were spilling the ball all over the place, and they certainly were not putting their bodies on the line in tight situations. Rumours of the demise of Colin Lynch as a hurling force were put to bed by his extraordinary all-action performance here, which he maintained right up to the end despite the energy-sapping heat.
The body language at the end told it all. While Clare were jubilant, the Waterford players just shrugged and walked off the pitch. Interviewed in De Paper, Justin McCarthy as much as said the result was immaterial to him. If the loyal Waterford supporters had known in advance that this was the mind set, presumably they would not have travelled in such large numbers.
And yet, despite the contrast in attitudes, in the end Waterford could easily have won this game. They missed five very scorable frees (itself no doubt a reflection of their lack of focus) which, if converted, would have won them the match. They showed much greater facility than Clare in terms of point scoring, but then, that has always been a Banner failing.
In commenting on the Clare-Tipperary game, An Moltóir pointed to the fact that Clare had dominated the game for a long period in the first half, but simply could not put scores on the board. In particular, four good goal-scoring opportunities went abegging. By contrast, last Sunday scoring goals came only too easily. Diarmuid McMahon did well for the first goal, but Eoin Murphy should never have allowed himself to be dispossessed. No self-respecting hurling goalkeeper should allow a waist-high shot from an angle 25 metres out to beat him, but that is what Stevie Brenner did for Alan Markham’s first goal.
For an experienced intercounty goalkeeper, Brenner has very poor technique, and for a big man, he never uses his physique. For Clare’s third goal he should have charged out and tangled with Tony Griffin rather than giving him a free tap-in, and for the fourth he should have come off his line to narrow the angle, especially after Markham allowed the ball to squirt ahead of him. One expects that other counties will have taken note and will target this key weakness in the Waterford defence.
Apart from his perseverence with Brenner, there are other mystifying aspects of Justin McCarthy’s management. Playing James Murray at centre back means there is a gaping hole in the middle of the Waterford defence which Davy Fitzgerald exploited mercilessly on Sunday. Why last year’s All-Star centre back isn’t being played in this position is hard to fathom. McCarthy’s reluctance to use substitutes is also very strange. Again, in De Paper he said that there has to be a reason to use substitutes. Apart from the need for fresh legs in such a demanding contest, surely a key reason for using substitutes is to give them match practice – especially when the result, according to McCarthy himself, didn’t really matter.
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