I’ve already stuck a flag on the Ken Bruen (Galway) versus Raymond Chandler (Waterford) piece, so butt out. Find your own angle.
That’s a cautionary message ahead of the deluge of Tribe-Déise articles you can expect over the next couple of weeks. Before we settle into that maroon-white dreamland, though, what about the other counties? Where do they stand now their 2017 is done?
A first impression: the kids are alright, and all over the place. The concerted move towards youth is apparent despite — or because of — the premium now placed on serious strength and conditioning programmes in all counties. If they’re young enough, you pitch them in.
Limerick contest an All-Ireland U21 semi-final against Galway this evening and the Shannonsiders have several of those players already embedded on their senior panel. Galway are habitual finalists at this grade and although their senior side is relatively mature, U21 mainstays such as Conor Whelan and Thomas Monaghan will be key figures on their match-day 26 for the All-Ireland senior hurling final.
Dublin suffered against Tipperary in their championship exit, but they also fielded three teenagers at various times in the season. All-Ireland finalists, Waterford, had 13 U21 panellists on their senior side last year and will bring those players — newly graduated from that grade with All-Ireland medals won last year — through to the first Sunday in September as well.
How significant is it that Kilkenny, an older team, didn’t make it to the semi-finals, and Tipperary, another experienced side, went out at the penultimate stage? Clare didn’t make it to the semi-finals even though they fielded a team with a very attractive age profile — a core of mid-20s players with U21 and senior All-Ireland medals. Do they conform to the general trend or form an exception to it?
Cork are the team which doubled down on youth this year, of course, and Kieran Kingston and his management team duly reaped the rewards, with a Munster title and All-Ireland semi-final appearance. Starting three 19-year-olds and a 20-year-old in their opening game against All-Ireland champions Tipperary was simultaneously a huge gamble and common sense: those were the players who had impressed in the league for Cork, so they had earned the right to a jersey.
The newcomers’ youthful appearance has sparked some enjoyable urban myths, including a plausible yarn about a couple of them being mistaken for minors at the door of a Cork nightspot and being turned away, but the experience picked up by players such as Darragh Fitzgibbon, Shane Kingston, Luke Meade, Mark Coleman, and Colm Spillane will be an advantage to Cork in the coming years.
What may not help the revival on Leeside is managerial uncertainty.
It is not clear at the time of writing whether Kingston will continue at the helm, and losing the Tracton clubman at this stage would be disastrous for Cork’s development into 2018 and beyond.
Kingston’s thoughtful tribute to the late, great Tony Keady minutes after the defeat by Waterford last Sunday was one example of officer-class qualities, and Cork officials will be hoping they don’t have a second senior inter-county manager to replace this autumn.
Most of the other teams in the chasing pack can at least anticipate some stability at management level.
Limerick’s John Kiely only began his term this year, as did joint Clare managers Donal Moloney and Gerry O’Connor along with Wexford boss Davy Fitzgerald. Tipperary’s Michael Ryan and Kilkenny’s Brian Cody will continue in their roles if they wish, leaving Dublin one of the few counties without a figurehead turning into winter.
Which leads us to one obvious question about those counties and their plans for 12 months’ time: what kind of tactics will they employ next spring and summer?
Expect all sides to operate with a withdrawn player complementing their centre-back, either in front of, alongside or behind the number six. Brendan Maher, Walter Walsh, Bill Cooper, Tony Kelly, and James Ryan have spent time away from orthodox positioning to bar the way to goal for their various counties, a trend which shows no sign of changing.
To misquote Alan Partridge, hurling tactics evolve, they don’t...
revolve. The managers walking the line this year and next aren’t reinventing the wheel, but tweaking what they have. For all the sound and light generated by the sweepers (non)debate, many observers have missed out on the presence of space being created in the middle third of the hurling field, particularly on the wings.
Waterford’s success last Sunday was aided by the extra man in the final quarter, but it was no accident that the hard running of Jamie Barron down the blind side carved out two goals.
The eye may have been caught by Austin Gleeson’s dazzling solo and finish through the centre, naturally enough, but in the modern game the room to operate — to hit the percentage shots — is found in the channels down the flanks.
One of the most enticing prospects about next year is how that space will be created and countered.
Clogging the wings with defenders only creates shooting opportunities from the 65, and no team can afford to hand their opponents free shots from inside their own half.
There’s a lot to look forward to.
And 2017 isn’t finished yet.
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