What Waterford must do to drive over the edge and into utopia

I saw an interview with Ken McGrath during the week where he expressed the hope Waterford would just go for it tomorrow against Kilkenny. 

What Waterford must do to drive over the edge and into utopia

Ken felt it was Waterford’s best chance.

Ken’s attitude, and hope, is mirrored by every hurling supporter, probably even some people in Kilkenny. They want to see the abandon and have-a-cut mentality shown by the Waterford U-21s. But is that really going to happen?

I can’t see Derek McGrath changing direction now. Waterford didn’t even alter their system against Wexford, which they would have needed to if they had designs of doing so against the All- Ireland champions.

Waterford’s only priority was to win that game but you can’t just roll out a new way in just two weeks because everybody wants, or is telling you, that it is the way forward.

Senior hurling is completely unrelated to U-21 hurling in the modern game. I’ve seen that up close. Whatever people say, Derek’s way has worked up to now. I don’t care what anyone says about the Munster final, that was just one of those days when everything went wrong. When Waterford did push up, they were wiped out.

Tomorrow they will have the same attitude and philosophy they probably need more than ever; try not to concede a goal, hang in, pick Kilkenny off with long-range points, and give themselves a chance to nick it in the home straight.

That gameplan didn’t work last year against Kilkenny but it wasn’t far off. The only goal they conceded was a mistake when Tadgh de Burca and Barry Coughlan clashed and allowed TJ Reid in. They limited Kilkenny to 1-21. If they can hold Kilkenny to 0-21, they will fancy their chances of outpointing them.

Waterford can’t afford to have 18 wides, as they had against Wexford. They won’t get as many shots off anyway especially Austin Gleeson who had eight wides, but they need to be far more economical with the scoring chances they do create. Waterford also need to be clever with how they try and set up their formation around Kilkenny.

You saw the mistake Dublin and Galway made by leaving Paul Murphy in the middle to patrol that central corridor. When you set up with a sweeper, you afford Kilkenny the licence to allow Murphy play in that same role in front of Kieran Joyce. It’s hard enough to get past Joyce, never mind him and Murphy.

If that happens, Waterford will need Maurice Shanahan to get up with Murphy and contest with him anytime the ball comes near that sector. Even if Gleeson is up that far, he needs to engage more with Murphy and deny Kilkenny that huge platform, both for defence and attack.

I’m not sure Joey Holden and Rob Lennon would make every county team but they have massive protection every time they play. With Cillian Buckley and Joyce sitting deep, and Murphy coming across, and Mick Fennelly , Conor Fogarty and Walter Walsh working back like animals, it must feel at times that escape from albatross would be a handier days work.

Brian Cody knows that set-up works. He trusts TJ and Richie Hogan will deliver but he will also expect to get way more out of Colin Fennelly and Eoin Larkin from now on.

Waterford have to believe they can still be beaten. Did they really believe it was possible last year? Do they think they can win now? When I was with the Dubs , we exhausted everything psychologically, to overcome all those natural doubts you have when facing Kilkenny.

We beat them in a league final in 2011, and in a Leinster semi-final replay in 2013, but I think it took something within the play itself ( rather than anything said or shown in a meeting) to really convince ourselves that it was possible. You get a big score. Then someone wins the next puckout and you get this surge where the belief just courses through the team.

Even though we had gone toe-to-toe with Kilkenny for over 100 minutes, it took our lads until half time of the replay to realise they were good enough, the winning of the game was there for us. ‘Do ye believe me now that we can beat them?’ I asked them in that dressingroom. We finally knew we were good enough.

Kilkenny, the Monday morning quarterbacks explain to us now, might not have been at their best that year. They were missing big men but if you compare that team to this side, on paper, all I would say it is that it was a better team. You just have to deliver a massive performance for 70 plus minutes to get it done against them.

Clare in 2006 when we were only two points down with six minutes to go. Limerick took them down the stretch two years ago, Galway in 2012 , last year, this year, Tipp so often. Kilkenny still won those games but you have to take them to the wire to give yourselves a chance.

Pádraig Harrington, our three-time major winner, is almost obsessive in explaining the key to his success was hitting the crossbar, losing another match play final or a playoff so so often but crucially staying ‘ at it’ and ‘ bringing it to the edge’ knowing and believing that one day he’d drive over that edge to glory.

If Waterford can, then they’ll hope for that bit of luck that might get them over the line. Looking for luck against Kilkenny might seem futile but you need absolutely everything going for you to take this crowd down.

If Waterford back themselves, they have a huge chance. They’ve regrouped well since the Munster final. The success of the U-21s has given everyone a massive lift. They are fancied to win the All-Ireland U-21. I’m sure the confidence within the group is just at the right pitch.

I don’t expect Waterford to abandon their system. It would be pointless at this stage but I’d love to see them try something a little different as well. Play Gleeson at centre-forward, leave Patrick Curran and Maurice inside the 20 metre line all the way through, and just go at the Kilkenny defence a bit more. Almost say to themselves, ‘To hell with it, if we lose, we lose’.

I think they can afford to adopt that mindset. Derek’s position is not under threat. He can almost tear up the script and go with a new system next year, introduce a few more U-21s, and build further on what he has constructed. I think that security blanket gives him the luxury of being that small bit more adventurous tomorrow.

At times, I think that this rotation system they have up front leads to confusion for their own defence, because they don’t know who is in what position, especially when there is heat on the ball-carrier. Of course you want to have the opposition always thinking but your own players like the comfort of knowing where certain pillars will be.

In my time as a player, I always felt happy knowing that Seanie McMahon was beside me, Frank Lohan was behind me, and Ollie Baker and Colin Lynch were never far away. With Dublin, I would have felt that Liam Rushe was happy to know Johnny McCaffrey would be sitting in front of him, and that Johnny was comfortable in the knowledge Sutcliffe and Keaney would be coming deep to win ball in his position. We had that familiarity we were all comfortable with.

I’m not being critical of Waterford now, because it has been relatively successful, but you can overcomplicate things at times. It doesn’t have to be rocket science.

This Waterford team has a lot of talent. If you compared both teams, a lot of these Waterford fellas would make the Kilkenny team, if Cody had that option. Yet it’s the sum of the parts of Kilkenny that makes them what they are. They may not blitz teams anymore, especially early on, but they are happy to grind it out now, which they invariably always do. A great bunch of warriors almost always winning the battle.

That’s why you still have to fancy Kilkenny tomorrow. That day coming out of Thurles, when Clare blitzed them in the league semi-final in April, I half feared this would happen, that they would respond with a vengeance.

Not that Cody wanted it to happen but Ger Loughnane was a great man for engineering those type of scenarios; have us half-baked, we’d get a hiding, and then he’d drive us demented to ram it down everyone’s throats who said we were finished, or in trouble.

Loughnane has been saying that Kilkenny can’t, or shouldn’t, be winning a three-in-a-row. By tomorrow evening, they should be a step closer to that target.

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