Ken McGrath's six observations on Clare v Waterford

He was one of Waterford’s greatest number sixes. Ken McGrath gives Michael Moynihan half a dozen observations on Waterford-Clare today.

Ken McGrath's six observations on Clare v Waterford

1. You tweeted “I have to say I’m glad I played hurling when I did” after the drawn league final.

“There was a bit of a reaction on Twitter, that’s all,” laughs McGrath.

“When you look at the games now, and how structured the play is, it’s different to when I played. As a defender, my first instinct was always to get the ball out of the danger area as fast as I could — as far as I could — to create danger for the opposition, not for our own team.

“At the first league final, the drawn game, I was sitting around the 45 metre line and I saw defenders running into trouble, giving the ball away — it was just a poor game, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with saying that.

“To me hurling is the fastest field game in the world, but that game wasn’t. But I’d be the first to say I wouldn’t have the mentality to play like that. And it certainly wasn’t intended to be a dig at Derek (McGrath) or Davy (Fitzgerald) either. Every team is doing it.

“It was a personal view based on the time I played and the way the game was then — it was more off-the-cuff, more free-flowing. More exciting.

“In fairness, a lot of that changed for the second day (the league final replay) but I’m not taking the credit for that!”

2. ...and it’s not as if all the old games were classics, either.

“I think these two teams, Waterford and Clare, are super teams, well able to hurl, and that’s why I was so happy to see them play the way they did the second day. It was a totally different game.

“Hurling people criticised Gaelic football for years, the terrible games that you saw, everybody saying they were hard to watch. The first league final was hard to watch up to the 50th minute, that’s just my opinion.

“We had bad games in our time too — the league final in 2007 was a poor game, certainly — but a lot of the stuff we did then you couldn’t do now.

“Clearing the ball fast then was a good idea, but now if you just blasted it down the field you might have two forwards up against four defenders.”

3. Even a club manager has to deal with the new dispensation, surely?

“It’s certainly coming in at club level,” says McGrath, who manages Mount Sion.

“We played Fourmilewater a few weeks ago and they had a spare man at the back, a couple of extra bodies in the middle of the field. That’s hard to cope with. I’ve no problem playing a sweeper — in my own time Dave Bennett often played that role for Waterford and we had a sweeper with the club last year against Ballygunner in the championship — it worked for us, without us getting the scores.”

4. A sweeper isn’t always the answer either, but Waterford and Clare are teams accustomed to that system.

“I think sometimes a sweeper can hide other problems with a team. Take Cork a couple of weeks ago against Tipperary. They had a sweeper but they looked to me like a team that had over-thought things; we all know the potential they have from midfield up, but the sweeper plan doesn’t replace fellas working hard, chasing their men, picking up individual players.

“Also at times a sweeper can confuse things at the back if lads haven’t worked it out properly — defenders leave the ball or the man to someone else they expect to be there, it takes a lot of practice to get it right.

“One big factor is that Waterford and Clare are both used to playing against the sweeper, so you won’t see the free shots that Tipp got against Cork the last day, I think.

“The likes of Jamie Barron and Colm Galvin will come to the fore there, taking the pop passes and having a shot from outfield.”

5. Okay, the game itself: Any changes expected in personnel this weekend?

“By all accounts Paraic Mahony has been going well in training, and he was good for Ballygunner in the championship too. Before he got injured he was probably our main forward, and if you look at the frees we missed the first day against Clare, he’d probably have scored a few of them and we’d have won.

“John (Conlon) offers Clare something different, a bit like Maurice (Shanahan) for Waterford. If you’ve a two-man full-forward line and you’re under pressure as a defender, it’s always an outlet, you can pump a high ball in on top of players like that. John’s big and strong, he can win dirty ball that the likes of Shane O’Donnell mightn’t, for instance, and he goes for the jugular. Maurice gives you a similar option.”

6. People want entertainment.

McGrath, now a partner in his brother Eoin’s Mean Bean Coffee company, has detected an appetite for championship fireworks on his rounds of the southeast.

“Patrick Curran’s goal in the second league game changed things, Clare had to come out and chase the game, and if something similar happens Sunday then you could have another good game like that replay.

“And hurling needs that. It’s been a poor start to the championship. Low-key. You’re trying to promote the game all the time,and to do that you need excitement.

“Players don’t worry about entertainment and managers only worry about winning, but people want excitement. I hear that all the time as I’m going around.

“If it’s as good as the league final replay we’ll all be delighted, but we need to kick-start the championship. Clare and Waterford are two teams who can do that.”

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