Lessons learned, but Déise may have to draw a different conclusion

Jamie Barron of Waterford in action against Dan Morrissey

This past year I’ve gone back to college to study sports science and yesterday morning I had to hand in an assignment.

It was on what we call functional movement screening, essentially a form of injury prevention. 

I conducted a series of seven tests on a soccer player, looking for imbalances in his posture and structure, and a couple of interventions to reduce the chances of him getting injured.

When handing me back his feedback, my lecturer said to me: “There was some great work in there, Tony, but the conclusion was poor.”

It wasn’t the most pleasant thing to hear but it still made me smile.

“You know what,” I told him, “I was up at the match in Croke Park and you’re just after summing up Waterford’s league.”

There was a fear after the close bond that Derek McGrath had formed with these players that it would take some time for them to take to a new manager. 

We’ve seen before how a group and a new manager can struggle after the departure of a manager that was loved and respected: Dublin after Dalo, Cork after John Allen; it even took us a whole league to adapt to how different Justin McCarthy’s manner and methods were to Gerald’s. 

But the transition from Derek to Paraic has been as seamless as you could hope for.

They’ve particularly warmed to what’s notably different about Paraic’s approach — the way he wants them to express themselves and attack a bit more than they would have the previous four seasons. 

He’s not afraid to take risks. But the thing about taking risks is you can leave yourself open, especially in a big field like Croke Park.

If you look at Waterford’s league, they played a lot of games on small, tight pitches — Galway and Clare at home in Walsh Park, Dublin in Parnell Park, Galway in the semi-final in Nowlan Park.

Going up in the car on Sunday morning, I was saying to my brother Paul and my wife Lisa that I was interested in seeing how our lads would go on a bigger field.

Lisa and Paul felt it would suit the team because it has a lot of pace, but my concerns about how our backs would cope one-on-one were confirmed.

For four years they’ve been used to having Tadhg de Búrca acting as a sweeper. 

But now Tadhg, especially after missing a good bit of the league through injury, is having to adapt to a new role with different demands, and the rest of the backs are having to adapt to not having him there sitting back in the semi-D, offering that cover.

Last Sunday, Tadhg fell between two stools, neither being a sweeper or a more orthodox centre-back, trying to dominate his man and the position. 

He needs to get a clearer picture in his head of what goes with being a more conventional number six, and then work on it on the training ground and in whatever challenge games he and Waterford can get before the championship.

Paraic might even look at playing one way in Walsh Park and another outside it. I think you can play in Walsh Park without a sweeper because the pitch is so tight.

It could work out very well for us actually that our first game in the Munster Championship is at home, because Clare will find it hard to play their normal short-ball, running game there.

But as for Limerick, the other side we play there?

They favour that kind of game as well, but they’re more flexible than Clare. They showed that again last Sunday.

They’re geniuses at recycling the ball and working it out in small tight areas; they’re almost like Barcelona that way, in how they form passing triangles with one another. 

And then they can deliver these beautifully-measured 40-50 metre diagonal stick passes to their inside men.

Last Sunday, Waterford tried to stymie Limerick’s normal puckout strategy by dropping Austin Gleeson and Paraic Mahony all the way back onto their own half-back line to occupy these squares of space on either wing Nicky Quaid likes to ping the ball into. 

Seán Finn of Limerick in action against Stephen Bennett of Waterford

But Paul Kinnerk has coached and moulded this team to problem solve for themselves.

Quaid spotted that Shane Bennett and Peter Hogan had to come out to fill the two wing forward spots vacated by Gleeson and Mahony, so Quaid just popped the ball to his corner backs who then carried the ball 20 yards and then went over the top of Gleeson and Mahony with diagonal ball into Aaron Gillane and Graeme Mulcahy inside.

Waterford should have copped that a bit earlier and pushed up on Limerick. They never really pressurised or squeezed them all day.

It was a big ask for Brick Walsh to start at midfield.

He didn’t have a lot of game time from this year’s league under his belt and struggled with the dynamism and running of Cian Lynch and Darragh O’Donovan. 

Maybe Sunday’s first half will bring on Brick and he’ll have a big part to play in the championship — but I see his best work being in the half-forward-line where he’s been outstanding the last few years.

Paraic has got a lot out of this league. He’s really backed Stephen Bennett who is flourishing as a result and blooded the likes of Peter Hogan and Jack Prendergast.

The team also has the likes of the two Fives, Shane and Darragh to return, as well as Conor Gleeson, while Conor Prunty is a possible option at full-back for the championship. So Paraic does have options at the back.

But whoever he plays there, they all have to brush up on their one-to-one defensive instincts, especially if Paraic continues to go without a sweeper, starting with the Clare game on May 12.

Basic stuff. Like being touch tight, getting out in front, raising the concentration and aggression levels that notch or two.

Just like me with the college paper, they don’t have to rip it up and go back to the drawing board, but things need to be tidied up if this summer is going to end with the results they want.

GAA podcast: Quirke and Dalo's Allianz League Review, with Ger Cunningham and John Divilly

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