Sixty-two minutes and 56 seconds into Waterford’s epic semi-final victory over Kilkenny last year, we got a snapshot of Waterford at their authentic best. Austin Gleeson had forced a turnover on Pádraig Walsh and Conor Fogarty. Within seconds, the turnover had acted as a trigger for the pack of wolves, namely Conor Gleeson, Darragh Lyons, and Jack Fagan, to swarm and dump Fogarty over the line. Cahill and Bevans’ war dance on the sideline mirrored many Déise households which revelled in a team underpinned by huge energy levels and raw hunger.
I watched the game with my late father who was battling terminal lung cancer. The sense of joy and contentment at putting one over our rivals etched on Dad’s face will never leave me.
Never during Liam Cahill’s two years in charge have I witnessed any negative body language or Waterford players not giving their all.
There is a marked difference, however, between giving your all and being insatiable and savage in terms of your attitude and desire.
Willi Railo, the late Norwegian psychologist, talks of the importance of cultural architects within a team environment when faced with challenges and ensuring attitudes and energy levels remain at peak point. According to Railo, cultural architects are “people who are able to change the mindset of others”.
Within the Déise set-up, Kevin Moran, Jake Dillon, Jamie Barron and Iarlaith Daly fit this profile perfectly. Railo’s studies revealed that for a team to be successful three to five such players are needed in a squad to “extend the shared mental model” of the coach.
Cahill needs these key men to bring the fight to Galway.
The same idea applies to the significant influence that Joe Canning, the Mannions, Joeseph Cooney, David Burke and Daithí Burke can have within the Galway squad. But has their attainment of the holy grail in 2017 subconsciously softened their pursuit of another one?
The All-Ireland of 2017 has naturally been referenced in the run-up to tomorrow’s contest. It is the only time Galway ever defeated Waterford in the championship.
The build-up to this game has lazily centred on a wounded, hurt animal in Galway waiting to be unleashed against a formless Waterford. It was interesting listening to and reading both James Skehill and Cyril Farrell this week. Both spoke of the anger in the Galway camp and the prospect of a “backlash”.
This narrative has been well flagged but permeation of this concept into the players’ minds and the implementation of this anger plan is far more difficult. Similarly, ignoring the experience and the passages of good play that Waterford have pieced together, albeit in disappointing matches thus far, would be foolish.
Waterford’s experience is often overlooked — 12 of the 20 that played last Saturday were part of the panel on All-Ireland day in 2017. The hurt and disappointment of that loss will not be lost on this proud group of lads. This will be particularly applicable to Conor Gleeson. Suspended for the final for a careless flick of the hurl on Patrick Horgan, his hurt was deep and obvious.
Culturally, we had agreed on our set of fluid and adaptable principles throughout 2015/16 and 17. Backing each other yet challenging each other was central to that maxim. We should have appealed Conor’s suspension and even gone to the DRA if necessary. He was our man and we should have seen it through right until the end. The decision was mine and mine alone.
Reflecting on it, the power of a positive or negative result could have been very empowering. Trying to use Conor as motivational bait backfired also as an overly emotive dressing room spilled onto Croke Park and Galway raced into a five-point lead.
Both teams will have looked and leaned heavily on the league game for clues on how they might plan and execute. Waterford’s use of the direct ball drew success in Nowlan Park last Saturday but also in Pearse Stadium. Galway will have taken note of the space they afforded Dessie Hutchinson and you can expect Darren Morrisey to take up duties from the start tomorrow.
Looking at the depth and detail of the planning that Tipperary and Limerick invested in last Sunday may have informed some of the thinking of both management teams.
Waterford have had to be flexible in their approach with positioning given their injury woes and I would have no problem with this level of tinkering continuing. Iarlaith’s loss to a quad injury has left a significant void. His game intelligence, distribution, and the sense of calm he brings will be sorely missed.
Austin will be played in the position that suits our assault on Galway best. Personally, I would have always told him to use the white marked line in the middle of the field where the referee throws in the ball as his point of direction. Here he can be under his own puckouts or adapt slightly to be under Éanna Murphy’s.
A midfield three of a returning Jamie Barron, Austin and Kevin Moran, supplemented by the pace of Lyons from deep, could be the formula that will unlock the Galway defence.
Kieran Bennett’s likely return should facilitate Shane’s relocation to the attack but the No 6 conundrum still exists. Could Shane Fives come in at No 3 and possibly Conor Prunty relocate to No 6? Would the organisational and team leadership skills that Jake Dillon brings to this area allow a more composed Waterford performance?
Ambiguity is the enemy, so scripting and planning become even more important than ever. More than likely, Waterford will overpopulate the middle third, protecting their new No. 6 and breaking at pace from deep.
Dessie and Stevie Bennett may well operate as a single spearhead and do not be surprised if Michael Kiely makes his first championship start to add power to the forward line.
From a Galway perspective, Shane O’Neill has received some unwarranted criticism for playing Adrian Touhey and Seán Loftus in the half-forward line at times. The negative musings were decidedly absent when both of them performed heroically in the aforementioned league game. Shane will have looked at the deep penetrative sojourns of Calum Lyons and may well employ one of the two to take on the guise of Mikey Breen for this weekend.
Alternatively, he may place a cute hurler like Niland, Concannon, or Conor Cooney on the wing to both stifle and hurt in equal measure. Either way, the dynamism of Lyons should create inroads for Waterford to capitalise on.
The major dilemma for Shane and Fergal Healy is whether or not to revert to Daithí Burke at No 3 and Gearóid McInerney at No 6. The idea of Burke at No 6 was motivated perhaps by that need to provide an attacking outlet from deep and maybe based on Daithí’s midfield positioning with his club Turloughmore.
Given that Joseph Cooney has played much of his hurling with both Sarsfields and Galway in the half-back line, a relocation to wing back with Pádraic Mannion at No 6, Fintan Burke at No 5, and a newly-formed midfield partnership of Burke and Cathal Mannion, would provide athleticism and power.
Galway’s approach to last year’s Leinster semi-final against Wexford could well be a reference point in terms of the depth of the Galway forward line. At times during Micheál O’Donoghue’s reign, Galway played with just one inside and the rest of the forwards breaking forward at pace. The same depth of planning seemed to be absent in their approach to the Dublin game.
Some months ago, while doing a championship preview in Wexford, I felt the shock of the year could be Dublin beating Galway. If Limerick had been more clinical last year, Galway would probably not rank as the most likely threat to the champions.
O’Neill, while correctly not admonishing his players in public, will have been furious at their body language, their lack of fight, and their almost sanctimonious attitude towards the opposition.
In-house games will spark a reaction but will it be enough and what changes might they consider?
Canning will likely be relocated to No 11 and will float across the half-forward line. Again O’Neill will do well to avoid the narrative that both Conor Whelan and Canning should be inside with everyone else outside. The problem then is similar to the one Dessie and Stephen Bennett faced with three Clare zonal half-backs as well as their own man-markers.
If Galway decide to play David Burke in the middle of the field they may well push Cathal Mannion to the forward line and pick a sextet from Mannion, Canning, the two Cooneys, Niland, Niall Burke, Concannon and Conor Whelan. If mentally tuned to do the hard graft as well as hurl, this unit could be very threatening.
For me, it’s the team that can be less rigid and less resistant to change that will come through. The players and management have to be effective at turning what could be a nothing season into one that changes everything. Waterford’s ability to come with originality is better and so is their inherent belief and attitude.
“Your team’s attitude and belief will determine how you deal with setbacks, challenges and losses so make sure from the beginning you spend as much time cultivating their belief system as you do your gameplan. When adversity strikes your belief system is the very thing that will get you through and help you triumph.” (, Jon Gordon)