Donal O’Grady.


Clare must not starve their hungry hitman again

Today’s game is all about the opposing full-back and full-forward units, writes Donal O’Grady.

Clare must not starve their hungry hitman again

A photograph was published in 1966 of the great Edson Arantes Do Nascimento leaving the pitch at Goodison Park. ‘Kicked out of the tournament,’ read the caption, or words to that effect. The image has stayed with me over the years. In that front-on photo, in a split-second, a sadness was captured on Pele’s face. He cut a lonely figure as he walked off with a raincoat or mackintosh draped over his shoulders. Brazil’s greatest forward seemed abandoned, almost, by the game he always graced with consummate skill, intelligence, poise, and sheer class.

As the Clare team trooped off after their recent Munster final loss, my mind wandered back to that photograph. I couldn’t help think that if that same photographer was present near the tunnel area in Thurles, he might have captured a pained frustration on the countenance of Shane O’Donnell.

At least Pelé could understand why he was roughed up by the opposition who targeted him with kicks from behind and crude tackles.

However, O’Donnell, a skillful and intelligent goal scorer, must have been completely nonplussed in that it was his own teammates who had caused him major angst.

He won a penalty, set up a good goalscoring chance, and afterwards was largely ignored. Those charged with supplying the Clare hitman chose other, poorer options. Clare struck 12 wides over the heads of their full-forwards, giving them no chance of possession.

I am not comparing O’Donnell to Pelé. The Brazilian’s hurling skills never amounted to much. He spent too much time ‘ag imirt peile’, as his name suggests. However, O’Donnell is every bit as vital to Clare’s prospects as Pelé was to Brazil.

Lots of posters adorn dressing room walls on matchday, bearing messages for players. O’Donnell should bring his own. “Hi lads, any chance of a pass?”

Today’s game is all about the opposing full-back and full-forward units. Tipp’s inside forward trio — Seamus Callanan, John McGrath, and John O’Dwyer — inflicted heavy damage on Dublin recently. The same line that had struggled as a unit against the Rebels were back on song. This trinity are blessed with attacking skills and scoring power. The smiles were back on their faces against the Metropolitans, playing with their natural instincts and enjoying their hurling.

No matter the opposition, 5-10 from play from the inside attack feeds a team’s confidence and boosts morale. Contrast this with Clare’s inner line, who only had 1-2 from play against Cork.

Patrick ‘Bonner’ Maher missed Tipp’s first game. He brings a different dynamic and dimension to the Premier’s play. Maher is an impressive character both on and off the pitch and as I have said regularly in the past, when he plays well, so do Tipp. The Premier now have the team from half-back forward that devastated Kilkenny last September and they will hope to replicate the tactics. Brendan Maher will sit in front of centre back, beside namesake Ronan, with Michael Breen free to roam forward from midfield and Dan McCormack and Bonner operating between half-forward and the two 65s. They will want their ‘markers’ to follow them, which would open up good attacking channels allowing for quality deliveries to their inside attack.

Clare need to alter their attacking plans. Aaron Cunningham is selected but I would play David Reidy inside on Donagh Maher. Reidy would have a roving commission — pulling out in an attempt to drag Maher out to half back and midfield, then dropping back inside to keep his man guessing. When he moves out, it will leave the pacy O’Donnell and McGrath inside in a two-man attack. Reidy can score from outside, always a bonus when enticing a defender away from goal. However, the primary objective would be to deprive Tipp of cover around the square, from their most natural corner-back.

The role of Podge Collins needs to be refined. Currently, he retreats too deep looking for possession. Dropping off his marker into midfield may be unproductive because of Brendan Maher’s positioning, designed to counter a roving centre-forward. I would play Collins on Ronan Maher’s shoulder, ready to pounce on breaks and by timing his runs, making himself available for over-the-top passes through the middle.

I would have Tony Kelly and Colm Galvin combining to set up direct runs at the heart of the Tipp defence, while Cathal Malone and John Conlon stay wide on the flanks. The plan would be simple. Run at Tipp from half-back, midfield, and half-forward. Once in any space, 50m from their goal, send advantageous ball to the two inside, going after goals from the throw-in.

Both Clare and Tipp have issues in their full-back-line and their respective goalkeepers don’t inspire confidence either. Once a full line of defence is under pressure, composure and confidence, necessary ‘ingredients’ for all defenders, can drain away. Previous boldness is replaced with hesitancy. This lack of assurance can then affect the goalkeeper and vice versa.

Tipp manager Michael Ryan knows their full-back line wasn’t up to scratch against the Rebels and that game was Tipp’s only real test so far. Mistakes in front of their own goal, by various defenders, cost them dear. The Premier’s performance was classified overall as less than impressive. However, there wasn’t a whole lot between the teams until Cork’s second goal, which resulted from a basic defensive error in Tipp’s last line of defence. James Barry, a natural half-back is now in the corner. Tomás Hamill was available for the Cork game but wasn’t used. He is now full-back.Tipp fans are wondering if this is Michael Ryan’s first choice full-back line or his only choice. Teams are usually built on foundations of strong defence. Both inside defensive units look to have too much sand.

David McInerney’s pace, height, and balance seemed the ideal foil for Seamus Callahan and he’s a massive loss to Clare. Oisín O’Brien, Clare’s best man-marker, was thrown in at the deep end against Cork, but that gamble backfired badly.

He is now on the bench and the line of Seadna Morey, Cian Dillon, and Pat O’Connor have a huge task on their hands. Clare cannot afford to concede early goals or to fall behind. Leading and then condensing the play in a rearguard action near the finish is the Banner’s best hope of success.

However, all the momentum is with Tipp and if they’re near to their best up front, they will be very difficult to stop.

Waterford have rediscovered their mojo. Their development as a team will have been helped by the Kilkenny game.They will be much better in future at closing out games. Setting up as they did against the Cats, Wexford will find them very difficult to break down. Davy Fitzgerald set his team up in this championship with seven defenders.

However, they will hardly need this number against the Déise. Derek McGrath will operate with seven in defence, Austin Gleeson nominally at centre-forward but operating around the middle of the field. Michael Walsh and Pauric Mahoney also spend a lot of time in midfield.

The big question is what tweaks will Fitzgerald make to their system, to try and win the game? Will he deploy Shaun Murphy directly in front of Shane Bennett, who was excellent in a lone attacking role against Kilkenny?

Crowding the middle third and scoring from long range would seem to be Wexford’s best chance of success.

Fitzgerald may ask James Breen to man-mark Jamie Barron, who is already a nailed on All Star and a candidate for hurler of the year. Wexford need to constrain the dynamic Déise midfielder.

However, even if they do, the Wexford attack lacks the scoring power to hurt this Waterford team.

The signs point to a comfortable Waterford win and they will be very dangerous adversaries in the semi-final.

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