A confidant, solid, vigorous opening is required by Waterford tomorrow. They know that they can’t afford another first-half performance like they served up against Kilkenny in the semi-final.
Limerick’s system works best when they get ahead. The Déise players and management will be aware that if Limerick get a lead they will close up shop by dropping bodies back to clog the space, playing the game on their terms by counterattacking effectively.
An early lead for Waterford would make life more difficult for Limerick. Their system is not as effective when they have to chase the game
However, even if the Déise commence activities with all guns blazing and surge ahead, the water break has the potential to scupper a good opening quarter’s dominance. It’s title suggests a break in play to take on fluids but, effectively, it is a time out.
In basketball and American football one rarely sees a dominant team seeking a timeout. They want continuation to maximise the scoring in their period of dominance. The break can reduce a team’s dominance. It brings some respite to the team under the cosh who can readjust to stem the blood flow.
Waterford are the underdogs. They need to dominate proceedings from the throw in. An unexpected tactic may be needed to put the Munster Champions on the back foot. But any surprise will be negated by the water break’, which allows management to tweak tactics.
The Treaty are a big, physically imposing team. A friend asked me last week if they wear medium-sized jerseys as they appear to be “bursting out through them”.
They are well conditioned and they have tremendous upper body strength and the tight jersey may carry a psychological impact. Even their ‘smaller’ players, like Graeme Mulcahy and Peter Casey, are strong and difficult to knock off the ball. They also have height, stamina and above all pace.
Waterford need to play at a hundred miles an hour, with full concentration from the start and see where it takes them.
At puck-out time, they must be vigilant. Referees differentiate between puck-outs after a wide and a score. They allow quick puck-outs before the whistle when the ball is wide but delay the puck-out after points/goals, as they need to note the score.
Nickie Quaid strikes the ‘wide’ puck-outs immediately and takes his time after a score. He doesn’t want to show his hand by finding a chink downfield in Waterford’s counter puckout strategy, only to be required to take the puck again. Waterford need to be tuned in to this and replicate it on their own restarts.
Winning ground rucks and forcing turnovers is key to any Waterford victory. Limerick use illegal ‘free arm’ tactics liberally to regain possession. These largely go unpunished. Waterford have less physique but they have to compensate for this with desire. Turning over possession in the middle third with high speed, disciplined tackling, as Limerick transition from defence to attack, can provide opportunities for the Déise.
Treaty defenders seldom stray from their positions, unless cover is available.
However, as Limerick transition upfield their half forwards are in advanced attack positions and unavailable as cover for their defence. If the Déise can force turnovers in this scenario it opens up attacking possibilities, and raids through the centre of the Limerick defence in search of goals.
Goals will be needed for victory. If pacy players like Jack Fagan, Neil Montgomery, or Stephen Bennett race through, there could be chances for support runners.
Waterford and Limerick have already met in the Munster final. It was a tough, close encounter. The big question is were Limerick at full tilt or were they 80% that day? Limerick are akin to many teams who are dominant in their field: like a top boxer who keeps his opponent at bay with regular jabs without landing a knockout blow, content to win on points over the course of the match. They do enough to subdue their opponents, confident in their hurling and collective ability to get the job done, without the full exertion of their physical power and talents. But tomorrow they may try to land hefty early blows that will do irreparable harm to the Déise.
Waterford will hope to replicate the periods in the Munster final when their tackling and commitment forced the winners into rash decisions which led to eight wides in the second half (just one in the first). The Déise were unable to maintain the required ferocity all game, but they know it works. All the pressure is on the favourites and if this pressure leads to little errors, it can create doubts where none existed previously. Limerick are the more talented team, but will remember the Ruby Walsh maxim that “talent is required, but the grit that was always a necessity is still top of the list”.
Limerick will hope to get their full-forward line motoring early.
Their default delivery is to the right corner for Aaron Gillane, who shoots or passes to colleagues moving into space. He also has the pace and strength to take on his man.
It is a difficult tactic to curtail, unless massive pressure is put on those delivering the ball to the corner or an extra defender occupies this zone. Unlike the Kilkenny game, if Limerick pounce for early goals, there will only be one winner.
Limerick’s full-forward, particularly Seamus Flanagan, regularly interchanges with Graeme Mulcahy and peels away to the left corner, on cue, as the ball arrives. Mulcahy often moves to give him close support, creating a goal opportunity as the other corner forward is ‘one on one’ with a defender in front of the goal. Options are open to link up with other forward colleagues or to take it on himself.
The way to counteract this is for the full back to position himself on Flanagan’s outside. This tactic blocks the attacker’s run and allows the full back to get to the ball first. However, it is high risk. If the ball breaks on the inside, a full-forward could have a clear run on goal.
Lessening the influence of Tadhg de Búrca will also be high on Limerick’s agenda. Keeping the ball out of his zone is the first requirement and Limerick’s full-forward might even leave Conor Prunty free and man-mark De Búrca.
Waterford will probably begin with Kevin Moran on Tom Morrissey and Calum Lyons on Gearóid Hegarty while Sean Finn polices Dessie Hutchinson. Both teams have strong benches but Limerick have a little more firepower. Introductions in the last 15 minutes could swing it one way or the other. Justifiably, Limerick are favourites. But whoever has learned most from their Munster final experience may end up as winners of this unique All-Ireland final.