When GAA historians reflect on the changes that hurling has undergone, will they mark down Sunday, May 3, 2015 as the day when the conventional game with the traditional positions of six, two, six finally died?
This was the day that Waterford — a county renowned for strength, skill, style and off-the-cuff hurling — had moved to the dark side.
Emerging from Division 1B, they plundered the Allianz League title, a phenomenal achievement by playing with a system. The future historians will opine that this fully deserved victory hammered the last nail into the coffin of traditional 15 versus 15, playing as per the match programme, that had endured for well over a century.
Currently only Tipperary, Galway, Limerick and Cork, who were at sea last Sunday, fly the flag of the traditional positions.
But stories from the Treaty County suggest plans are already afoot to develop a new strategy to counteract the sweeper system employed by Clare in the forthcoming first round Munster Championship game.
Tipperary dabbled with a three-man midfield against Clare in last year’s league semi-final but have remained in the traditional camp with a man-to-man conventional lineout.
In the past, Galway have gone with three-man midfields whereas Dublin also dabbled with a holding midfielder in front of the centre half back.
But it would be stretching it to these moves as systems.
Systems reflect the talent available to the manager and coach at any given time. It’s success rises or falls on the capabilities of the playing panel.
Devising a system requires careful planning by the management with an input and total buy-in from the players. It reflects the playing strengths of those players and needs leaders to drive it, on and off the field.
The first requirement in any team aspiring to success is being difficult to defeat. A tight defence is the first major building block of any team. Waterford play seven at the back with Tadgh De Burca playing in front of full back Barry Coughlan or adopting a man marking role, as he did on Seamus Harnedy on Sunday. That left Coughlan in a free role with ‘midfielder’ Jamie Barron playing in the centre back position holding the middle of the defence.
Captain Kevin Moran, number 10 on the programme and Colin Dunford number 15, supplement the efforts in midfield and are aided and abetted by attackers Stephen Bennett, Pauric Mahony, Michael ‘Brick’ Walsh and Jake Dillon who move up and down with the play. Maurice Shanahan often plays up front alone.
Waterford manager Derek Mc Grath has devised a system suited to his playing talents where every player has an assignment and fully understands his role and that of his colleagues.
The system is based on good support play and getting plenty of men behind the ball making them very difficult to beat. The extra bodies available near a breakdown ensure they have good options for the outlet ball from defence and they hit measured passes to retain possession (although they hit a number of aimless balls forward on Sunday and will seek to correct this for the summer).
What of Cork?
Major analysis is needed not just for last Sunday but for the last few games. For some reason they have started slowly against Wexford, Dublin and Waterford.
Overconfidence could be an explanation for the former two but they would have seen Waterford against Tipperary and surely knew they’d be in a battle.
Modern inter-county teams have everything timed pre-game. Cork’s management will be aware of the amount of runs gone through in the time allotted and will have noted the intensity of the mini games.They started well in some league games so comparisons can be made.
I tipped Cork to win narrowly. I assumed that having escaped from the Dublin game, playing with the required pace only in the last 20 minutes that Cork would begin aggressively fighting for every ball ensuring that their opponents didn’t build up any lead, forcing Waterford to chase Cork, thereby opening up the play. The reverse was the case.
Jimmy Barry-Murphy is a traditionalist at heart. But he may have to move a little to the dark side in planning for their upcoming championship encounter. Managers always look for positives no matter what. They have to.
Two positives came from yesterday’s performance.The Rebels got an indepth look at a highly impressive Waterford which should inform their planning and of course they will be massive underdogs come June 7.
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