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Wed 04-Jun-2008 23:01
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Déise Downfall due to lack of sharpness and game plan, not lack of effort
The mythology machine has already gone into overdrive concerning Clare’s victory over Waterford last Sunday...
Clare were focused, sharp, committed while Waterford were listless, uninterested, lethargic, lazy, couldn’t-care-less. One would wonder how the Déise managed to keep the ball pucked out to the Banner men at all. Yet, once again, the cold statistics tell a somewhat different story.
In terms of scoring chances created, there was very little difference between the teams. Clare hit 28 scores and seven wides; Waterford hit 23 scores and 11 wides. What is perhaps even more surprising is that, in terms of number of plays (this includes all pucks – not counting frees - flicks, kicks, hooks and blocks which work to a team’s advantage) Waterford were way ahead of Clare – 167 to just 121. This applied to both halves: Waterford had 89 plays in the first half and 78 in the second compared with 56 and 65, respectively, for Clare.
Waterford’s problem, therefore, was not lack of industry (with one or two exceptions) but lack of sharpness and, as ever, the lack of any detectable game plan. Time and again, they were caught in possession. Their handpassing was frequently poorly executed and put the receiver in more trouble than the deliverer and their first touch was very bad, especially in the first half.
However, an even bigger problem for the Déise was the lack of any direction in their play. They have learned nothing from their disastrous defeat to Limerick last year, when they persisted in sending high balls in the general direction of the opposition goal. They were at it again last Sunday with similar results, whereas Clare had a clear plan of sending in low-trajectory ball to the full forwards, and both of their goals came directly from such plays.
A comparison between Waterford’s display against Clare last Sunday and that against Tipperary almost exactly two years previously shows some remarkable similarities. The An Moltóir column on that occasion referred to “the general lack of sharpness in their [Waterford’s] play”; “the tendency of the Waterford players to hit the ball blind without looking up”; the “general lack of steel in the Waterford fullback line” which allows “forwards…to run right through them without being molested”. In 2006 Waterford fielded a blatantly unfit Seamus Prendergast; ditto Dan Shanahan last Sunday. And despite all this, in 2006 Waterford managed far more plays than Tipperary – 160 to 125, extraordinarly similar to last Sunday’s count.
Two obvious lessons can be learned from this. In 2006, Waterford ended up losing an All-Ireland semi-final by a single point, having gained revenge on their first round conquerors along the way. So to write them off, as some commentators have been doing, may be premature. And secondly, Waterford simply have to be more efficient in converting possession into scores if they are to entertain any hopes of All-Ireland glory. Last Sunday, Tony Griffin scored five points from just nine plays and Mark Flaherty notched 1-2 from just five plays (excluding frees). By contrast, for example, Seamus Prendergast and Gary Hurney scored just one point each from 12 and 11 plays, respectively.
John Mullane, of course, was an exception, notching eight points from 13 plays. All but one of these points were scored from passes received from other Waterford players. One should be wary of condemning defenders for failing to close Mullane down in situations such as these. It would be a different matter if Mullane was cleaning out his marker in one-to-one situations.
Some commentators have dismissed Gary Hurney as being out of his depth last Sunday, but in fact he didn’t do too badly, despite showing his inexperience on occasions. He set up two of Mullane’s scores with passes and also created the opening for Mullane’s first half goal chance which Philip Brennan stopped. He scored a point himself, was unlucky not to get another, and set up a couple of other scoring chances which weren’t taken. Not bad for a footballer who wasn’t even on the panel four weeks ago. Incidentally, his marker, Frank Lohan, only played the ball once in the entire game, and that was when he picked up a loose ball in the last phase of play. Lohan did, however, make a key contribution in cynically bringing Eoin McGrath down with a neat trip as the Waterford corner forward was bearing down on goal early in the first half. In soccer, Lohan would have got a red card. Dickie Murphy didn’t even give him a black book caution.
Conor Plunkett was by far Clare’s most effective player last Sunday. In addition to his 16 plays he weighed in with three fine points from long-distance frees. The only other Clare players to get into double digits in number of plays were Colin Lynch (12), Diarmuid McMahon (11) and Brian O’Connell (who finished strongly) and Niall Gilligan (who had his best game in a Clare shirt for many years) (10 each).
It is undoubtedly a sign of the high standards Brick Walsh has set in recent years that many commentators regarded him as having an ineffective game last Sunday, even though he was the busiest player on the field with 18 plays. No less than eight other Waterford players had ten plays or more: Tony Browne, Jack Kennedy, John Mullane and Eoin McGrath (13), Dave Bennett and Seamus Prendergast (12) and Aidan Kearney (who, despite Mark Flaherty’s 1-2 from play, had a really fine game throughout) and Gary Hurney (11).
Clare will not get carried away by last Sunday’s well-deserved victory. Despite some spectacular plays, their wing backs didn’t actually hit a lot of ball – just 14 plays between them. Their wing forwards hit even less, although these included two fine points by Tony Carmody. Their main scoring threat is in the inside line, and a lot will depend on their ability to get good ball into the full forwards. They were able to do it at will last Sunday, but they will hardly get the same time and space the next day out. However, one thing is clear: no one is going to get it easy against the Banner this year
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