The attacking statistics are simply not adding up for Waterford’s senior hurlers, writes Peter McNamara.
Everybody has an opinion on how Derek McGrath sets his team up and the implications for both themselves and their opponents.
Likeable sort McGrath will contest their much-vaunted system has gotten them to the point whereby the Déise will be competing in another All-Ireland semi-final on August 7 against Kilkenny.
Therefore, they have a 25% chance of lifting the Liam McCarthy Cup.
Facts that cannot be argued against.
However, are Waterford engineering a sufficient number of scores in open play to suggest Kilkenny will be put to the sword at headquarters?
Déise supporters look away now: The answer is unfortunately ‘No’.
1-15. 0-4. 0-15. Those three tallies are the scoring returns of McGrath’s men from open play in their outings in the Championship so far this summer.
Waterford registered 1-21, 0-13 and 0-21 against Clare, Tipperary and Wexford thus far.
To be fair to them, there was a sense of ‘damned if they do, damned if they don’t’ as regards their most recent outing last Sunday in Thurles, especially on the back of the tongue-lashing Michael Ryan’s charges had doled out in their direction at the Gaelic Grounds.
Yet, 1-34 scored in open play in three Championship matches will not leave Brian Cody with sleepless nights.
It seems as if Waterford’s players find themselves caught between a rock and a hard place when in possession.
And this is particularly true of those operators working the lines around the middle-third.
What do those players that have earned possession in their own half see when they get their heads up?
Very little in the way of a viable outlet is what.
The Déise hit 18 wides in Semple Stadium against Wexford.
I would proffer that at least 50% of those wides were recorded due to the fact when the defensive player in possession attempted to develop a play he realised the chances he could locate an attacker with room enough to get on the end of a lengthy delivery were minimal.
And what happens any player in situations such as these? Inevitably they fall between two stools which therefore leads, in those very moments, to poor decision-making.
Hence, the wides.
At the risk of sounding like the Grinch, is this good enough when the All-Ireland champions are lying in-wait around the Jones’s Road corner? Eh, not quite.
Interestingly, there is a statistical consistency to Waterford’s offensive yields from their tussles with Clare and Wexford.
On both occasions they raised 21 white flags, 15 of which were pencilled in during open play and in both games the Déise had eight different players on the scoresheet.
Say, for pig iron, we forgive Waterford their attacking performance in a provincial final of which Pauric Mahony and Patrick Curran were their only two scorers in open play with 0-2 each.
After all, McGrath and co deserve some slack factoring in their general consistency, particularly in this season and last term.
To go further, let us suggest the Déise’s baseline mean return from play is indeed 0-15 with eight scorers a supplementary average.
Would that tally be sufficient against Kilkenny?
The Cats have registered 1-25 (1-17 from play) and 1-26 (1-18) in successes over Dublin and Galway in the Championship respectively.
Notice the obvious differentials straight away between Kilkenny’s bounties and Waterford’s? Cody’s outfit have in the region of five points on the Déise already on an extremely basic level.
Nevertheless, they are points McGrath’s unit must find in a week-and-a-half.
When the counties collided in the All-Ireland semi-final last year unsurprisingly Cody’s team had six points to spare over their south-eastern adversaries winning 1-21 to 0-18.
There is little in the way of cold, statistical evidence to present a theory that gap has been narrowed since.
‘Waterford scorers: Maurice Shanahan (0-9, 0-6 frees, 0-1 65), Colin Dunford (0-4), Austin Gleeson (sideline), Shane Bennett and Kevin Moran 0-1 each’ was what was printed in the newspapers the morning after that particular contest.
And a similarly read scorers’ list may transpire next Sunday week if Waterford do not address the decision-making of the ball-carrier in central areas of the pitch.
For instance, could Gleeson, a wondrous talent, not have drilled low trajectory, diagonal balls into his inside line on even four of the eight occasions he fired wides last Sunday?
What? There was no inside line? Fair point. Mea culpa.
In all seriousness, Waterford will need to have at least three attackers, and possibly four, in more conventional surroundings at all times when Kilkenny are in the opposite corner.
Even if they insist in withdrawing the majority of their players inside their own half it is imperative they retain an actual forward line to pin the likes of Paul Murphy inside his own 20-metre line.
Those ball-carriers need opportunities to aim diagonal possessions towards targets close to Eoin Murphy’s net.
The harsh reality for Waterford is if they do not create at least four goalscoring opportunities for which two are converted in to green flags it is highly unlikely McGrath’s soldiers will score enough points to advance to the All-Ireland final.
At U21 level Waterford have been racking up noteworthy tallies with 3-23 pinned in their Munster semi-final against Clare and, as the country saw once more last night, 2-19 registered as Tipperary were overcome by 10 points in Walsh Park.
The manner of those displays suggests Waterford possess the tools to be more fluid and threatening offensively at senior level, especially as there exists such a crossover in personnel.
Maybe McGrath needs to loosen the in-game structural reins a bit. Those senior statistics don’t lie, after all.