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Wed 11-Aug-2010 19:42
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Waterford v Tipperary - the preview
As the Cork fans trudged away from Croke Park last Sunday, they knew that the Stepford Wives had thought them a lesson, having half expected that the comment would ultimately haunt Cork. A great comment for the autobiography of a retired player, but not so great if you are hanging around. The writing was on the wall when Nickey Brennan and Eddie Keher entered the media, followed by Charlie Carter on the ‘Ireland on Sunday’ who vowed that Kilkenny would seek goals in revenge.
The tone this writer picked up from ‘Come What May’ was that Cork felt let down by Kilkenny’s failure to back them publicly in their strikes. But as one Kilkenny cynic put it “In Kilkenny we put hurling before everything, in Cork they put money before everything, which was more important to Donal Og? An extra thousand sales or an extra All Ireland medal”. In Cusack’s defence, this writer would suggest he wanted both and perhaps a sequel!!
Kilkenny march on as the drive for five is still alive, while Waterford and Tipperary battle it out for the role of cannon fodder on the first Sunday in September. It’s somewhat ironic that the semi final pairings in 2010 are exactly the same as they were in 2008. Kilkenny have dropped a tad, though you wouldn’t know it from Sunday. Cork have dropped significantly, but could still have won Munster. It remains to be seen at what level Waterford are on but they now play to a different style. Tipperary raised the bar from 2008 but their multi-generation inherent belief that they have a divine right to win remains.
Needless to say, they have the game won next Sunday before a ball has been thrown in. The bookies agree, Waterford are available at 5/2, a side who have ground out their results this season. They are available at a (+3) handicap. Tipperary beat Galway to get here and the general public believe that their early summer problems are solved and that they may as well be granted a free passage to the All Ireland final to beat Kilkenny minus Henry Shefflin.
But a late Galway collapse isn’t something that’s new. Remember Big Dan’s introduction in Thurles last year? Remember Tullamore? Remember Thurles and the Donal Og sending off a year earlier. This Galway side seem to have developed a habit of not reaching the finishing line in big championship games. Perhaps it’s psychological. Therefore grinding out a result against them in a tight finish cannot be compared to grinding out a result against Cork, Waterford or even Clare, Offaly, Limerick (at full strength) or even Wexford in a tight game. This game is far from the foregone conclusion that its being made out to be.
Tipperary’s biggest problem is that they rely on movement too much to win primary possession. Imagine a Tipperary half forward in a basketball court type space with a sliotar being pucked on him. Their need for space would decree that they utilise the entire area available to ensure the pass is made. Whereas Kilkenny and, to a lesser extent Waterford, know that they can take their chances with less movement. Tony Browne, The Brick Walsh and Declan Prendergast are more than capable of gobbling up high ball in the Waterford half back line, but the key is the pressure applied by the Waterford forwards, who ensure that possession cannot be laid on a plate.
A point worth noting also, is that in the two games that mattered this year, Tipperary conceded three goals. Not exactly what the doctor ordered coming into an All Ireland Semi Final against a team you are evenly matched with. Essentially for Tipperary to win this one, they will need to move the Waterford defence around the place. But Waterford are quite content to hold their positions and withdraw players to soak up the pressure. Consequently, Tipperary may find it difficult to create the type of pre-planned moves that have yielded high scores in the past.
Waterford have tried to develop a system to choke teams, a system that was probably designed with Kilkenny in mind. There’s a marked contrast in styles in these two teams, the ‘new’ Waterford are now defensive minded, whereas Tipperary still yearn for a shootout. Waterford may lack the type individualism provided by Paul Flynn in his day, but they operate on a serious team ethic these days. Waterford have attempted to solve the problems in their full back line, by creating a situation where they defend as a unit rather than each man defending his patch. If the full back line is exposed, it’s because others have not performed their duty. Liam Lawlor has looked limited at times, but seems to fit their system better than most.
The advantage that Tipperary have though, is that they probably arrived at their best available team, through the back door, assuming Shane McGrath starts at midfield. It might not be a team good enough to lift the Cup, but it’s probably a team with greater balance than the one that went out in Cork. Waterford have a lot of thinking to do in this regard. They need to assess what their best combination of starting players and subs is. The triple substitution in the drawn Munster final had an air of panic about it, and while they got out alive, those changes had little enough to do with their escape.
The thing about championship hurling is that you have players you know will perform, and you have players that might perform better on one given day than another. Tipperary have more players who will definitely perform on most occasions, whereas Waterford are picking the players in the hope that they are on song when the match starts. It can be a tricky one to get right some times. Is Seamus Prendergast a better starter or an impact sub? Ditto many others. Jamie Nagle is an interesting player who has been hampered by injury. On song he is a good one, and might have a strong part to play on Sunday.
So where will the game be won and lost? It’s unlikely that either keeper will concede a goal that cannot be prevented. Therefore goals will be well created, with neither keeper having a chance. Waterford are the more physical of the teams in their approach as they attempt to develop a level of physicality that only Kilkenny have at this moment. Tipperary have the run of games, but the Waterford games in training are believed to be as tough as those in Nowlan Park.
However, some of the Tipperary forwards don’t tend to win their individual battles. They can in fact be well beaten in their positions, yet they tend to maximise their scoring return from the two or three balls that they do win. In that regard, do they start Callinan or do they hold him back? Are his scores worth more than any lack of defensive duties? They had a handy All Ireland semi final this time last year, meaning they had plenty in the tank for the final. The early goals meant that they didn’t have to go to the well. They will most definitely have to go to the well on Sunday.
Here is where the training could matter. Tipperary would have budgeted for the front door route, planned accordingly, and intended to ramp things up over the past few weeks. The interference of games has prevented that. While a hard match is better than 20 training sessions, it different when the matches aren’t so hard, especially for a team that are unsure of where they belong in the greater scheme of things. On the other hand Waterford have allowed key players do certain things differently and it hasn’t hindered Tony Browne for one, though it remains to be seen if his superlative Munster championship form can be translated into Croke Park form.
To give hurling another boost in a relatively uninspiring year, we need a high profile hurling draw. We may get it on Sunday.
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