Selecting the man of-the match on The Sunday Game last weekend was an easy enough decision, to a point, a straight shoot-out between Pauric Mahony and Austin Gleeson. We went for Mahony but nobody would have argued if we had gone for Austin. Richie Hogan also made the shortlist but if you were to stretch that long-list even further, the results would have shown how off the pace Kilkenny really were.
Five of the top six performers were from Waterford. I’d be confident enough saying that eight of the top 10 were in white jerseys. Pádraig Walsh was the only guy you could put into that category with Hogan because so many of the Kilkenny fellas didn’t show up. A few of their big guns like Michael Fennelly, TJ Reid and Conor Fogarty hardly got a puck. Most of that was down to how well Waterford played, and how much they put Kilkenny on the backfoot.
And yet, and yet, they still didn’t lose.
They are just an incredible bunch. Five points down with time running out, Waterford may have been thinking: ‘It’s our time now’.
Everyone else may have been thinking: ‘The machine is finally coming to a halt’.
Yet Kilkenny’s mindset was: ‘No boys, not yet, we won’t let our grip slip. No way.
I always felt Waterford would have a chance if they could hit 0-24 or 0-25, and have a shutout. They didn’t have the shutout but they will need to today, along with raising a green flag themselves.
They did create two good chances from Shane Bennett and Kevin Moran. If that was the Kevin Moran of two or three years ago he may have had the pace to get away from the Kilkenny defence and bat it to the net.
Kilkenny only got one goal chance but they took it.
And that’s still the difference between the sides.
I was very impressed with Waterford’s swarm tackling but, by God, there are times not to swarm tackle. On your own 13-metre line, with a loose Walter Walsh moving inside, you don’t need four players converging on Colin Fennelly. If a second fella has to commit, make sure he is still mindful of his primary duty.
Fennelly was well bottled up but Waterford’s gas was low at that point and I’m sure Derek McGrath and his management will have addressed that issue.
At the start of the week, I fancied Waterford. Yet the longer the week goes on, I’m moving back towards Kilkenny. Will TJ, Mick Fennelly and Fogarty be as ineffective again? I don’t think so. I can’t see so.
Will Waterford play as well again? Possibly.
The extra few days may have given Darragh Fives a chance to make it back. Young Conor Gleeson was excellent last week. He will have benefitted so much from that game. So will some of the other young Waterford fellas.
I’m not sure what Brian Cody will do. After their displays last week, I was sure he would want to drop John Power and John Joe Farrell to the bench but he didn’t drop either of them (or has he?).
I was shocked Lester Ryan didn’t feature earlier.
I said it to Eddie Brennan beside me. I thought he had played very well against Dublin and Galway and I’d be surprised if Lester doesn’t start.
There was a serious malfunction too with Kieran Joyce at centre-back but part of that was down to the how poorly the guys around him were going. Waterford were clever too in keeping Paul Murphy wide and away from the centre as much as they could. Ironically, he nearly killed them from that position at the death when he had that last shot at goal.
Waterford did so many things well last weekend but they’ll have to do that, and more again, to win now. It’s hard to make a proper call on this.
I’ve been torn all week. Waterford need to believe they can close out the deal now, as the great Len Gaynor used to say: ‘Stand out in front of them and show them the warts on your back.’
I think they can. But I think Kilkenny will win
Looking to tomorrow’s game, I’m sure Michael Ryan and his management were delighted that Galway beat Clare in the All-Ireland quarter-final. This is the game they wanted after last year’s semi-final defeat. Mick won’t even need to motivate the team. He was there last year. He saw the hurt and devastation first hand. I’m sure he has been tapping into that over the last three weeks.
Tipp want this game so badly that I’d say if you asked the Tipp players back in January if they had a choice of meeting Galway or London in an All-Ireland semi-final, they’d have taken Galway.
Along with that desire for retribution and atonement, I think Tipp are in a great position. Their U21s were beaten in the Munster final, which will have exacerbated the hurt and hunger for those young players on the senior panel.
The flipside to all of that though, is that it’s an All-Ireland or nothing now for Tipp. Will nervousness creep in? Have they handled the five-week break? They didn’t last year when they underperformed. When you analyse that game, it was a hiding if you remove Seamus Callanan’s contribution. Can you see Callanan doing anything like the same damage to Daithí Burke tomorrow that he wreaked on Padraic Mannion and John Hanbury last year? I don’t think so.
Other fellas will have to step up but guys have been doing that all year. John McGrath has been sensational. John ‘Bubbles’ O’Dwyer must be ravenous to get back in after not having seen action since the first 10 minutes of the Limerick game. Does he start him? It’s a no-brainer for me, he’s too good to be left sitting.
Michael Breen has been brilliant. Patrick ‘Bonnar’ Maher was back to his rampaging best against Waterford. Noel McGrath has shown flashes of his old self. They may not have been fully tested in the Munster final but there is still that solidity about Tipp in 2016 that makes you doubt those doubts about them.
I liked Eamon O’Shea as a coach, but as a manager, I don’t think he was as strict as Mick Ryan is. Mick has accumulated the best of two worlds, having worked under Eamon and Liam Sheedy. I’d say he has married the best of their traits with his own and it looks a formidable package.
Having the fresh voices of Conor Stakelum and John Madden has probably added to the vitality of the set up too.
Galway’s form is decent though. They delivered a good 60 minutes in the Leinster final. They blew Clare away overall. Clare never looked like winning that game because Galway were better in too many positions.
Whatever doubts were expressed about Micheál Donoghue’s management after the Kilkenny game were quelled after the quarter-final. Tactically, they shut Clare down, especially on their short puckout, but they outthought Clare in lots of other areas too.
Micheál will know Tipp inside out after having worked with Mick but Tipp will be ready for Galway too. They will have a plan for Joe Canning, especially when he comes deep, whether that entails Dan McCormack or Brendan Maher picking him up. Breen has been given a licence to get forward, which will continue, and which Galway may struggle to deal with. You can also expect Callanan to deliver again. He won’t score 3-4 from play but he is so good that he will contribute in some significant way.
It should be an open match. There will be tactics but I don’t expect it to be as cagey as some of the stuff we have seen this summer. Galway will probably be more tactical from a defensive viewpoint but I expect Tipp to trust themselves that bit more. They’ll hope that Cathal Barrett will tie up one their shooters inside, possibly Cathal Mannion, and that James Barry will be comfortable enough to mark Joe on the edge of the square if required.
After that, they’ll fancy every other defender to do their job.
Tipp by three or four points.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved