TONY BROWNE: Puckout strategy the key for underdogs Limerick

From precision preparation to puckout strategies, John Kiely’s Limerick has got virtually everything right this summer - but Galway will win, writes Tony Browne.

Like most neutrals ahead of this All-Ireland final, I’m not really neutral at all.

Limerick have captured our hearts and imagination this summer and because they’re coming from a place similar to ourselves in Waterford, their approach to this final is naturally one I’ve been monitoring with some interest.

I’ve been impressed with how John Kiely has gone about things all year, but especially since the final whistle went against Cork in the semi-final. He’s obviously been informed by previous Limerick experiences such as 2007 and judging by the tone he set straight after the Cork game, it’s as if he’s also learned from the experience we had here in Waterford in 2008.

Looking back 10 years on, it’s incredible for such an experienced, seasoned team how naïve we were.

Puckout strategy the key for underdogs Limerick

 

Too much was too different. Kiely right away at the post-match press conference stated that his team doesn’t do open sessions, insinuating that would hardly be changing for the final. In 2008 we didn’t just have one open night, meeting and greeting the public, we had two!

One in the city and one in Dungarvan so as not to risk offending our support in the west of the county.

Instead of tearing each other apart in A v B games like they were over in Nowlan Park, we were doing silky drills in front of packed fields.

Though someone like myself had won an U21 All-Ireland before, the only player who had experience of All-Ireland final day itself was Paul Flynn from the minors back in ’92. Even Davy, for all the college teams he had already taken by then and all the September games he’d played for Clare, hadn’t been through it as a manager; there’s no hype or clamour for tickets ahead of a Fitzgibbon final.

That collective inexperience told.

The night before the final, we had a team quiz back in the hotel, followed by what can be best described as a Waterford’s Got Talent contest.

Lads were up doing impersonations, acting, singing. I can understand the rationale behind the activity — don’t have the lads overthinking the game, keep them together and loose and their minds occupied on something else — but it was too contrived.

There was too much of a nervous, stilted giddiness. Too many fellas felt uncomfortable while still trying to go with the spirit of it and it just led to a waste of precious energy.

I know where I’d rather have been that night. For almost 20 years before every Munster Championship match — first round, semi-final, final, didn’t matter — I’d be in the front room of my parents’ house with my mother Esther, watching whatever was on the telly: Me there, sipping from my two-litre bottle of water and snacking on some fruit to provide fuel for the engine the following day, and Essie there smoking her Rothmans.

She’s always claimed she’s not a heavy smoker and that like Bill Clinton she has never inhaled, but I must have for her. One time when I was a fishing trip with my father I had a bad cough on me and we put it down to too much time in Elsie’s company. Sure enough, when I finally moved into my own house, the cough disappeared for good!

The night before that 2008 All-Ireland final, I’d have done anything for another bout of passive smoking and the comfort of sucking in the fumes of her fags, the pair of us there on our own — my father, being a huge hurling man, knew and respected the drill enough to stay in the other room.

There wouldn’t be a word between Mom and me about the match, only a slag about some guest or host on a chat show or a character from whatever movie might be on.

When I think of it now, one of our big problems in Waterford was that for too many years we didn’t establish that kind of familiarity for big games in Dublin. We kept changing our routine, our process. Will we go up overnight? Will we fly up? Will we go on the train?

Nearly every time it was something different — either a new hotel or a new form of transportation. We should have had our own tradition and routine of how to approach a game in Croke Park: This is how we do it, end of. That way it wouldn’t have got to the level of being a factor, excuse or ordeal.

These days everything is better: Logistics, mental preparation, even the roads. I read in this paper the other day of Sean Silke the night before the 1980 final being woken up at 4am from the noise in the hotel Galway were staying in.

Nowadays with the M6 and playing in Leinster, Micheál Donoghue’s men are accustomed to travelling up the day of the game. And under Kiely, it strikes me that Limerick’s preparation is just as smooth. There’s not a hope or a danger that for this final too much will be too different.

Another process of Limerick that they have impressively stuck to is how they set up for puckouts, both for their own and the opposition’s. I highlighted after their win over Waterford how they demolished us on puck-outs — no mean achievement, given Derek McGrath’s expertise in that aspect of the game — and the last day against Cork they again won that battle hands down.

If I was Micheál Donoghue I’d have been up all hours poring through every puckout of every league and championship game featuring Limerick this year that I could get my hands on and vowing and plotting to shut theirs down.

The patterns are apparent when you closely study it.

On opposition puck-outs, as graphic two illustrates, Gearóid Hegarty and Tom Morrissey act more like a number 5 and 7 than a number 10 and 12 by dropping back close to their own halfback line.

The full-forward line of Aaron Gillane and co move out a bit further back out and split and hedge across the width of the field to try to disrupt things and close down space. Usually that forces the opposition to go long where Hegarty and Morrissey are back to help the halfback line who with their size probably didn’t need much help in the first place.

Puckout strategy the key for underdogs Limerick

On their own puckout then Limerick either go short or, as graphic one shows, they look to go long by creating a T, with their midfield making up a small line across the field and then their forwards forming a central spine, leaving a box on either flank for Nickie Quaid to drop the ball into for them to dash onto.

If I were Galway I’d counter that right away by mirroring Limerick’s defensive puckout formation and having my own double cover in those two green zones.

Joe Cooney went back to wing-back the last day in the reshuffle from Gearóid McInerney being out injured and, with his size, there’s no better man to drop back in there even with McInerney back for the final.

Puckout strategy the key for underdogs Limerick

Likewise have the other wing-forward — Cathal Mannion, Niall Burke or whoever else it is — drop back to close down that space and cut off that supply. Make each green zone a war zone, a maroon zone. Make Quaid have to deviate from his normal process, something he or Kiely won’t want him having to do in their first All-Ireland final.

James Skehill was excellent with his puck-outs the last day against Clare. You could tell the Galway management and backroom had done a lot of work between the drawn game and the replay. Their puckout was faster and shorter from knowing they’d be up against the sweeper and it was a masterstroke to move Joe Canning to the wing where Colm Galvin wasn’t on top of him and he had more space to operate.

There’ll hardly be a sweeper Sunday and Canning will most likely be back at 11 so I would try to get someone for Skehill to ping the ball to about 50 yards from his own goal — a half-back or a Johnny Coen — and then for that half-back or midfielder to launch ball over the Limerick halfback line and Morrissey and Hegarty. If conditions are favourable, Skehill is even capable of landing the ball directly on the 21 himself where he’d trust the Galway forwards to fight it out and emerge with the ball.

A bit like Brian Corcoran against Galway themselves in the 2005 final.

For me, Johnny Glynn is made to give Limerick similar fits. If you were to clone one team to take on this Galway side it would be Limerick only you’d add an extra eight or nine inches to Mike Casey.

I love how quietly and tidily Casey goes about patrolling his patch but Glynn on the edge of that square presents a match-up nightmare.

Kiely may even consider moving Richie English there onto Glynn but I doubt he will in case it upsets a young fullback line that has done little wrong. But having a man that can make the ball stick in there like Glynn gives Galway a decisive edge.

Others will say Limerick have an edge themselves when it comes to the bench but again if I were Donoghue I’d have been stoking and prodding the likes of Jason Flynn the last week or two.

Giving them a bit of the Ger Loughnane treatment. Everyone thinks their bench is better than ours, don’t you know that? No-one remembers what you did coming on last September. I’d have Flynn feeling pissed off and revved up going into Sunday. Conor Cooney the same whether he’s starting or not.

I think a refocused and confident Cooney could well be the difference. Him and Glynn. And as well as Limerick have prepared for the occasion, Galway’s greater experience of the occasion.

Limerick to perform, Galway to win.

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