Before this game, I wondered how Waterford would approach it. They had based their success over the last two seasons on a tight defence. In the Munster final, shortcomings under the high ball were exposed.
In this must-win game, manager Derek McGrath went with his tried and trusted system. A fresh breeze blew into the Town End at Thurles. I was certain that Wexford would be tempted into regularly probing for weaknesses in this area once they were favoured by the elements. They tried this tactic on a number of occasions but Waterford always had bodies back and Wexford didn’t have the quality upfront to trouble them.
Since their pummeling by Tipp, the issue of confidence was the main question hanging over the Waterford camp. They went with the same team as the Munster final - a direct challenge to the players by manager McGrath. Without hitting great heights, they saw off the Wexford challenge but their failure to create any goal chances will be a concern.
One of the big talking points after the Munster final was Waterford’s failure to convert scoring chances in the first half. They had 10 wides that day but their shooting was off yesterday as well. Wind-assisted they accumulated 13 wides, mainly from faulty long-range shooting or bad decision-making. They only converted 12 from 31 chances.
Too often, Waterford drove forward but instead of taking easy scores when they found themselves in space, they took the ball into contact. This reduced the chances of scores dramatically and invariably the wides tally increased. Austin Gleeson was culpable on a number of occasions and was forced to shoot under pressure, clocking up four wides in the first half.
I was surprised by Wexford’s puck-out strategy against the strong breeze in the first half. Waterford backed off the Wexford defence and short puck-outs were a relatively easy option for Wexford. Full back Mathew O’Hanlon was left free on a number of occasions and goalkeeper Mark Fanning should have used him as a receiver more often.
Facing into a strong breeze Wexford needed to link the play forward. This strategy isn’t without risk but risks were needed for the underdogs to win. Wexford scored five points in the first half, three as a direct result of a short puck-out being worked up the field. They should have continued with this strategy until Waterford forwards pushed up on defenders.
When this happens more space is available to strike long puck-outs into areas where there was a better chance of securing possession.
However, the vast majority were struck down to their half forward line by Fanning, playing into Waterford’s hands. Waterford had Kevin Moran, Darragh Fives, Austin Gleeson and Philip Mahony, all strong physical players, converging under the Wexford puck-out, which hung in the air. Deliveries that hang in the air favour players facing the ball and Waterford mopped up the breaks or won clean possession. Securing the ball in their own half-back line gave the Déise an attacking platform, a firm grip on proceedings, while denying Wexford go-forward ball.
Wexford needed to get a good start but it was Waterford who began with a flourish. They moved the ball quickly setting up nice early scores for Maurice Shanahan and Michael ‘Brick’Walsh. Once Waterford settled into their stride, Wexford were treading water.
We will have to wait until the next day to judge the Déise. Wexford will probably be happy to have made the quarter-finals, with wins over Offaly and Cork, but they will be disappointed with their display yesterday. This game is a good barometer of their standing in the game.
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