No truck with tactics

IN years to come it will be the stuff of death bed confessions. Yes Father, those are Celtic Crosses on the mantelpiece but, God forgive me, it’s time I got it off my chest; we used tactics.

It will be a leper’s funeral.

Thanks to the success of Kilkenny, and now Tipperary, the T-word has lost its cachet in hurling circles. Bring out another man around the middle if you have to, but don’t be talking about it afterwards. It’ll be a long time yet before we hear discussion of a false ten on the 40.

Toe-to-toe. That’s how it’s done now. Like in Gladiator, all the chicanery that brought Maximus so far would be no use without a good, old-fashioned mano-a-mano bout at the death.

In the aftermath of last year’s All-Ireland, Ger Loughnane was quick to renounce any suggestion that these were the foul spoils of strategy. “Tipp dug out their victory, not through tactics, but good old-fashioned guts, determination and genuine players giving everything they had and putting it all on the line for the cause of Tipperary.”

As Tony Considine said this week: “The game will always come down to one thing. The game will come down to man to man.”

And that’s the conundrum facing Davy Fitzgerald in tomorrow’s Munster final.

The tactical retreat Waterford beat might have worked this time last year when Cork’s misfiring forward line got lost in the crowd.

But when Waterford backed off Tipp in August, Noel McGrath and company kept them firmly on the back foot.

So will Davy persist with what Brian Flannery, who knows from 2002 how All-Ireland champions are ambushed, tends to call “that oul bollixing.”

Brian is a 15 v 15 man. “We had two fantastic finals in the last two years. The great thing was Tipperary took on Kilkenny toe to toe; no playing an extra defender, no messing, none of that mullarkey.

“Brendan Cummins put the first puckout down on top of Tommy Walsh and Bonner Maher. That sent out a message that Tipp would take them on; physically and hurling-wise, all over the field.

“If you want to be able beat the top teams, that’s what you have to be able to do.”

In last year’s semi-final, Waterford crowded the middle third, allowing Cummins hit loose defenders with short deliveries. Flannery wasn’t impressed.

“They handed Tipp the initiative. They were allowing the two corner backs take the puckouts. But they didn’t realise Michael Cahill was able to strike the ball 90 yards so you had Eoin Murphy and Noel Connors — the two smallest men on the field — contesting them, when you really wanted Brick Walsh under them.”

In truth, Waterford looked beaten before they ever got started last year. In a sport where adrenaline, momentum and belief play such a role, does a plan devised to contain your opponents automatically betray weakness on your part? Cork minor coach John Considine — who writes a lot on hurling tactics — doesn’t entirely agree.

“It depends. If this is the way you play all the time, you don’t see it like that. This is what we do.

“This has worked for us. It’s only a negative if a player believes you’re making a change because you’re afraid.

“It’s very hard anyway to change the setup of a whole team between one match and the next. If Waterford go man-for-man and it doesn’t work, people will wonder why they did that when they were playing defensively all the time. What would have happened last year if the Tipp corner backs had lost a ball or two coming out and conceded a goal? People would have asked what were Tipp doing with the short puckouts.”

Flannery, however, hopes his adopted county will change tack. “I don’t think there’s any tactic or gimmick that’s going to disrupt an experienced team like Tipp. But I’m sure Davy will try something. Some old change. But you still have to win your own ball, to win puckouts. All these things.

“It was the same in 2009, they were going to drop this fella off and drag Kilkenny all over the place. But they couldn’t win possession and the game was over in 10 minutes.”

Considine will let the scoreboard decide the rights and wrongs of it. “If you win and you told lads to stand on their heads in the dressing room, you were right.”

Tactics and gymnastics. Currently enjoying parity of esteem in hurling circles.

Haye can’t rise to the phalanges

IF the Greeks have traditionally shown a little vulnerability in the heel area, it is the humble toe that has dogged the British for decades.

The unspeakable mental image of Tory David Mellor, clad only in a Chelsea shirt, having his toes sucked by mistress Antonia de Sancha, haunted chiropodists for much of the 1990s and sent sock sales soaring.

It was a gammy digit that ended Gary Lineker’s goal-hanging days, while the only Scot to set foot in the Bolshoi Ballet couldn’t see the pointe any more after she broke her toe last year. Then there’s the endless trauma visited by first cousins, the metatarsals — bones notable for their fragility just as a World Cup beckons.

Nothing, however, can have prepared the British public for the sight of David Haye pulling off his shoe and wafting his baby toe in the faces of anyone unfortunate enough to be still ringside after his bout of ducking and diving with Vladimir Klitschko.

In that moment of craven excuse-making the last vestige of British stiff upper lip — a fine quality almost fatally diminished anyway when Brave John Terry sobbed uncontrollably in Moscow — was, finally, entirely depleted.

Ironically, Klitschko’s trainer Emanuel Steward had pointed out beforehand that Haye wouldn’t win anyway because “he is off balance all the time. He’s too far apart and flat-footed. Vladimir is always on his toes.”

As for Haye, this little piggy went to market alright. In fact, he sold and sold. But perhaps, ultimately, he should have stayed at home.

Kenny for Irish job? Possibly so

“I NEVER realised that in order to become a jockey you have to have been a horse first.”

That was Arrigo Sacchi’s defence of his appointment as Parma coach in 1985, having had no background in football.

Kenny Cunningham was a defensive thoroughbred, but his stabling doesn’t suit those who queried his appointment to assist Damien Richardson manage the Airtricity League XI in the forthcoming Dublin Super Cup. Leaving aside how much it matters who throws out the jerseys in a friendly money-spinner, it’s great news that one of the true leaders to wear green is cutting his teeth in coaching.

At Birmingham Kenny was known as the Dublin Baresi for his ability to read the game. And when Steve Bruce tried to offload the blame for relegation entirely onto his players in 2006, Kenny was quick to defend the dressing room.

“You gain respect by standing a short step in front of your players and leading them and backing them to the hilt as best you can.”

Don’t be surprised if Cunningham one day gets to stand in front of the full Ireland side.

Judge & Jury

THE ACCUSED: FIFA (A career criminal)

THE RAP: Making the World Cup a game of three halves.

EVIDENCE: The firm responsible for cooling the Qatar stadiums said there are plans to play 30-minute thirds in 2022 if temperatures are too hot. FIFA has denied such a plan exists and of course we believe everything it tells us.

THE DEFENCE: If we can persuade FIFA to let us take part, this has to be good news for Ireland, especially a 36-year-old Paul McShane, who you suspect might deal with the heat about as well as Steve Staunton in Orlando.

CROSS EXAMINATION: But Billo will be retired. Will Dunphy be able to summon up enough faux outrage to fill two half times?

EXPERT WITNESS: The rules allow this, kind of. Law 7 says: “The match lasts two equal periods of 45 minutes unless mutually agreed between the referee and the two teams.”

VERDICT: Case adjourned. They’re playing the World Cup in a desert. It’s a bit late to get sand in our knickers about the details.

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