They’ll come from all over the country hoping for a stylish game but for those Cork and Clare folk attending, they’ll just hope for a win. Neutrals in the attendance, if there are any real neutrals present, come to savour the atmosphere and enjoy the occasion.
They will hope for a rip-roaring, skilful contest befitting of a game between the two best hurling teams in Ireland and hoping that the teams will carry on as they finished the last day.
But there will be a half dozen other neutrals who won’t care for the enjoyment factor or the occasion. This group will comprise of inter-county managers, both the incumbent and prospective, for 2014.
They will take their seats to view their protagonists with an eye on next season. As the game unfolds, data will be processed mentally as how best to beat the more tactical Clare or the more orthodox Cork next summer. This is the biggest game either county will partake in. It is the ideal scenario to see how the various players react under the most pressurised conditions and from the stands the opposition managers will be mentally examining their prospective panels seeking to identify the type of player, system or general tactic needed to overcome both teams in 2014.
Their focus is not this year; no matter how they did it is in the past. For these managers, it’s all about the future.
Hurling is constantly evolving and where once the game was decided by contests between two individuals in predesignated positions, it is now more of a collective contest between two 20-man panels with outfield programme numbers meaning little beyond the full-back line.
Kilkenny, once described by current manager Brian Cody as being completely free of tactics, morphed into the most tactical team of all from 2006. They developed a system set up to beat Cork, stuck with it and reaped the benefits winning six titles from seven.
Cork play an orthodox game with some variations but Clare have the capacity to devise tactical systems that can be put in place for different opponents as they have built on the patterns of play devised and implemented by their minor and U21 teams under Donal Maloney and Gerry O’Connor.
This is what opposition managers come to see. DVDs are a great tool for analysis but there is nothing like a bird’s eye view to track the tactics of prospective opponents.
Three managers in particular will feel that next season can’t come quickly enough, each having suffered at the hands of Clare or Cork this year.
Brian Cody has moved quickly to establish a new management team. This is early as Cody normally waited until late October/November to commit for the following year. This shows his intent. Including James McGarry and Derek Lyng may prove as shrewd as the addition of Martin Fogarty was back in late 2004, the last time he went with early appointments, forming a management team that remained intact for nine years.
Cody will seek some additional talent in the ongoing county championship as he knows he needs freshness and competition in his squad and also knows that acquiring a system to beat Clare or Cork will be a prerequisite for success next year.
One could argue their present ‘A Game’ system used to defeat all opponents since 2006 and demolish Waterford in 2008 and Cork in the league final last year would still suffice. However, a system is devised for a particular group of players and the loss through retirement, injury, the ravages of age and loss of form robbed them of the ingredients that made them almost invincible over seven years.
Although attackers garner headlines, it’s defence wins championships. Cody may well build his defensive system around Jackie Tyrell at centre-half back with Brian Hogan reverting to full-back, where he has proved his worth filling in there over the years. Cody will be watching Clare intently, mentally filing their patterns of play in defence and attack with a view to counteracting them if needs be next year.
Dublin manager Anthony Daly will attend tomorrow with two hats. He’d love to see his native Clare win but his general focus will be on learning for next season. He will feel some pangs of regret. The nagging thought that Dublin could be there will pass through his mind more than once.
Daly, not averse to the employment of tactics, changed his approach from Leinster and went for a straight 15 v 15 shoot out with Cork in the first half of the semi-final. His Leinster tactics might have won him the day but there’s no definitive answer to this now.
At any rate, it’s water under the bridge now and he will make mental notes of how best to deal tactically with the Rebels or his native county if the need arises in 2014.
Galway manager Anthony Cunningham will be anxious to put this year behind him. They failed tactically against Clare, directly after a similar defeat to Dublin in the Leinster final.
Cunningham will focus on the various tactical approaches on view while attempting, concurrently, to theorise his team’s reaction to them. He knows Galway have to improve in this regard and he will hope to have gained some further insights into the Clare and Cork tactical approach.
At this level managers look for little edges. They have the advantage of being back in training earlier than January, when Clare and Cork return. On viewing the game, if they believe they can stop either of these finalists they’ll have had a profitable outing to headquarters. How profitable will be clearer next September.