My, aren’t we a pious lot? Brian Gavin hadn’t brought proceedings to an end on Sunday when the “hurling correct brigade” were populating social media announcing Waterford’s defeat as a victory for the game.
Never mind that Derek McGrath’s team have been one of the most free-scoring teams these last 17 months – all it would take was one bad defeat for Waterford for them to be filleted. Never mind that Clare’s sweeper system has also seen them make the final six, Cork and Limerick’s repeated inability to equip themselves with the tactic was further reason to call the end for the stacked defence.
The bad news for those who believe hurling should be played one way is that Waterford aren’t going to change their ways anytime soon. McGrath made that clear following the game, pointing out that Tipperary did so much of their damage in the second half when Waterford had chosen to go man for man. Come Sunday week, either Tadhg de Burca or Darragh Fives will be minding the “D” in Thurles and they won’t be budging.
So many believe they know what’s right for Waterford, yet in their first season under McGrath playing traditionally saw them exit to Wexford in the qualifiers. Yes, direct play won the game for Tipperary, yet in the first half it is conveniently ignored they retreated a player back into their half-forward line and another to make a three-man midfield. By stationing a wall of bodies across the middle of the field, they made it patently difficult for Waterford to penetrate.
“A close analysis of how we set up today would actually lend itself, for about 45 of the 70 minutes, that we were actually conventional,” said McGrath. “It was more that Tipp were dropping a man back and it looked like we had an extra man.”
But that doesn’t fit the narrative of those who have already castigated Waterford and determined the sweeper as the reason for their downfall. And plenty more besides.
Former Kilkenny defender Eddie O’Connor laid the blame for last year’s lacklustre championship at the door of Waterford. He would probably hold them responsible for this season’s disappointment too but it isn’t their fault the likes of Cork and Limerick have turned themselves into fake knock-offs of Waterford.
Conor O’Sullivan worked so well as a sweeper against Dublin but he was more than that; he was a spare man after Chris Crummey’s sending-off. Last Saturday against Wexford, Cork didn’t have that luxury.
Waterford not only find themselves in the same place they were five years ago but also where Clare were after being dumped out of Munster in 2013 when their hurling was dismissed as ugly and ineffective.
Eventually, the merits of creating space in the oppositions’ half for a young team instead of attempting to win ball against bigger, more mature players was realised. But now, just as it was back then after Clare lost to Cork in June, the demand for change in tact is propagated by misunderstanding of what actually happened in the Gaelic Grounds.
The bias of those against the sweeper system won’t allow them to recognise anything other than its shortcomings. What is more disconcerting is the sanctimony directed at the youngest inter-county team in the Liam MacCarthy Cup. How dare these zealots determine their sensibilities about the game are more accurate than a vibrant group that has reached four out of five finals in the last 14 months?
McGrath hardly saw last Sunday coming but he has anticipated difficult times for his team. It’s why he has consistently attempted to deflect pressure away from them. In this newspaper last month, he admitted management purposely talked down the team’s chances in the press. “We’re probably playing it (up) to a degree because you’re trying to protect the players in the event of a bad day. You’re trying to protect Austin (Gleeson) – 20 years of age, Shane Bennett – 19 years of age, Patrick Curran – 20. You want to let them know that when the day comes you’ve anticipated it because you have mentioned it publicly.”
That day came on Sunday and it was interesting, with the exception of Gleeson, that McGrath chose on Sunday to take off his most tried and trusted. Noel Connors, Pauric Mahony, Maurice Shanahan and Michael Walsh are big and bold enough to cope with being substituted in a Munster final and turn up with the goods 14 days’ later. Gleeson is that brilliant a talent few would bat an eyelid were he to take Clare’s U21s apart in Walsh Park tomorrow evening. That Munster semi-final will provide quick, sweet relief to the young bloods.
Both as a tactician and mentor, McGrath has immersed himself in providing protection. Sunday showed what a cruel world it can be even for such a rapidly developing side. Tipperary’s ruthlessness was more than enough but then their detractors danced on their grave. Waterford aren’t dead yet, though. And neither is the sweeper.
Rulebooks thrown out yet again
Hat's off! Alan Cadogan of Cork get's his helmet taken off while in action against James Breen! pic.twitter.com/Zf7IdkES2S— sportsfile (@sportsfile) July 9, 2016
There are some things you just can’t accept no matter how much you try.
Yesterday morning, injured Sligo footballer Charlie Harrison made the draw for Round 3 of the All-Ireland SFC qualifiers. Having randomly picked them from the bowl for a home draw against Clare, we can imagine manager Niall Carew was onto him soon afterwards to thank him. Just like Johnny Ryan’s presence as the man in the middle in Wexford Park the weekend before, Harrison shouldn’t have been put in such a position merely for the sake of argument and neutrality.
Next Sunday, Galway and Roscommon duke it out for the second time in seven days although the losers are almost certain to be in action again the following weekend, the third time in 13 or 14 day. Provincial runners-up are, where feasible, provided with 13 days between losing a final and their fourth-round qualifier but that is unlikely to apply here simply because there is no space available. Let’s remind ourselves it usually takes 10 weeks for the Connacht SFC to be run off.
Yesterday’s Irish Examiner GAA coverage carried photographs of Patrick Maher and Alan Cadogan having their helmets knocked off their heads. As per rule, such fouls are sending-off offences yet neither offender was dismissed. It’s obvious to anyone watching hurling this season that higher challenges are becoming more frequent yet officials appear dissuaded after the Patrick Horgan red card in the Munster final three years ago.
Last Friday, Mickey Harte told the media that tensions between Tyrone and Donegal are exaggerated. Either the flashpoints that have characterised their last three championship meetings have escaped him or he doesn’t want David Coldrick on red alert. The latter suggestion seems more believable.
The case for video evidence gains momentum
It was this time last year a couple of Croke Park officials were making a case against video evidence in light of the misplaced criticism of Paud O’Dwyer to award Limerick’s Paul Browne a goal against Westmeath. Yet it was ultimately video evidence, albeit from an alternative angle, which illustrated the Carlow referee and his umpire were correct to award the goal. This summer, we’ve seen the benefits of replays with the inaccurate decision not to credit Wexford goalkeeper Mark Fanning with a penalty goal. Saturday’s most debated incident in Castlebar has underlined its significance again.
Ask Joe McQuillan now if he would have preferred a second, third or fourth look at the Aidan O’Shea penalty incident and he would more than likely take your hand off. The truth is referees like McQuillan have already supported in principle the introduction of video evidence and moves could soon be afoot to advance that process.
As for O’Shea, he is one of the big men who it might be argued hasn’t been awarded his fair share of frees in the past but does that justify him taking justice into his own hands? It doesn’t. Is he, like Tiernan McCann, going to be handed down a proposed eight-week suspension for bringing the game into disrepute? Unfortunately for McCann, there can only be one guinea pig and he was it. Like the Tyrone defender, however, O’Shea’s punishment will be on the pitch where referees are certain to take a dimmer view of his appeals in light of the simulation. Then, he might be wondering was it really worth the hassle.
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