There was little sympathy for Waterford yesterday but then so many were only waiting for their sweeper system to malfunction. Yet it seems so harsh on a proven team and management to say a victory over them constituted a victory for hurling. There is so much genuine quality about Waterford, it would hardly be surprising if they manage to turn things around when they face Wexford on Sunday week.
Waterford recovered from a similar low point in 2011 and while this is a greener team there are principles Derek McGrath would be foolish to do away with after one bad day at the office.
The sweeper didn’t work yesterday not because there is anything inherently wrong with the tactic; it just wasn’t carried out as effectively as it has been in the past.
Tipperary may play a more aesthetically pleasing brand of hurling but then Waterford have been no slouches in the scoring department.
A sweeper tactic brought them to an All-Ireland semi-final last year. Teams have cottoned onto them a bit but they are hardly going to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
Most have had their suspicions about this bunch since the 2014 All-Ireland semi-final hammering to Tipperary. Saturday evening provided damning affirmation.
Over the past two years, questions were raised with regard to the collective heart of the Cork hurlers, others questioned their bottle, more their stomach for the fight. We’ll take all three and put them under ‘attitude’. And quite frankly, Cork’s attitude stank on Saturday in Thurles.
When Paudie Foley’s mistake was punished with a Daniel Kearney goal, Cork, against all odds, found themselves in front with nine minutes to go.
Forget how poorly they had played in the preceding hour. Here they stood after being handed a glorious opportunity to sink Wexford. Instead they stood back and allowed Wexford hit four of the next five scores.
Clare mixed the good with the bad at Semple Stadium on Saturday. Slow to start but brilliant when they opened up to land nine successive points before half-time. Slow again in the second half as Limerick made a game of it and while this victory saw the Banner men into the All-Ireland quarter-finals for the first time since 2013, there’s still a lack of consistency in their ranks.
But we don’t need too much reminding that Clare improved incrementally en route to All-Ireland glory in 2013 and these players know what’s required to go all the way.
Manager Davy Fitzgerald must have suspected that Tipperary would do the business against Waterford yesterday, as Clare’s confirmed quarter-final opponents are now Galway. He was lavish in his praise for the Tribesmen at full-time on Saturday — moving quickly to defuse any further tension between the counties in the wake of Ger Loughnane’s tongue-lashing.
Mayo manager Stephen Rochford shipped a lot of criticism after the Galway game for playing wing-forward Kevin McLoughlin as a sweeper and playing corner-back Keith Higgins in the half-forward line.
However, Rochford clearly had the courage of his convictions as both players lined out in the same roles against Fermanagh on Saturday, despite the failure of the strategy three weeks previously.
Mayo have rarely played a sweeper in recent years so perhaps Rochford feels this adjustment is vital to their chances of success. The tactic had a mixed result in the first half on Saturday but after the break McLoughlin was the launchpad for numerous attacks from deep while Higgins was a lively presence in the half-forward line.
Where this season takes Mayo remains unclear but it is evident Rochford is attempting to set them up differently this summer.
Opponents of the qualifier system should be made sit down and watch Longford’s remarkable win over reigning Ulster champions Monaghan — or, more to the point, the sheer outpouring of joy which followed it.
They don’t have a big population but more than half the county must have been standing outside pubs later that night as we travelled through Granard, Edgeworthstown and many villages along the route.
Longford, perhaps more than any other county, have put more oxygen into the qualifier system than anyone else.
Denis Connerton, who did this deed over Monaghan back in 2004, has put his faith in youth and they have rewarded him with the sort of gutsy display and never-say-die spirit that is so sadly lacking in so many other championship matches.
The game looked to be slipping away from them a few times in Clones on Saturday evening but they kept plugging away, took the hits and were rewarded in the end with the standout result of a summer which, in fairness, has produced a few surprises.