Wexford face Waterford under no pressure.
Manager Liam Dunne has done very well to get them to the quarter-finals, in spite of their many injuries, and confidence will be high.
Waterford will need to put Wexford under serious pressure from the start, nullifying the influence of Lee Chin around the middle and cutting off the supply to attackers David Dunne, Conor McDonald and Liam Óg McGovern.
Déise defenders need to mark this trio very tightly. Maintaining a strict discipline in the tackle and committing no avoidable transgressions are basic ingredients for success. Wexford’s attack only scored six points from play against Dublin and ten points against Cork. The Model attack must be forced to shoot under pressure rather than allowing McDonald pick off easy points from frees.
McDonald, McGovern, and Podge Doran compete well in the air. Liam Dunne may follow the Tipp tactic of striking high balls into the Déise defence.
In the Munster final, Waterford’s defensive organisation crumbled. Under Tipp’s aerial bombardment, major fault lines opened in front of the Waterford goal. Confusion reigned, leading to Waterford’s collapse. They will undoubtedly have worked on this weakness in training but time is always the enemy when attempting to correct major flaws.
I expect Wexford to probe continually for weaknesses in this area and a good Model start may knock Waterford’s fragile confidence.
Before they consider tactics at all, Waterford need to recover their collective ‘zip’, largely absent against Tipp. They will more than likely employ their tried and tested system.
Their offensive tactics should be simple. It is difficult to pick up attacking runs from deep. Austin Gleeson and Jamie Barron must be encouraged to run directly at the centre of Wexford’s defence from halfback/midfield, offloading to Shane Bennett, a highly-effective centre-forward.
Holding his position on the Wexford 45m line would allow Bennett the space to run onto ‘over the top ball’ and drive directly towards the Wexford posts seeking goals or scoreable frees. Defenders must look to Gleeson in midfield for outlet ball and if loose he has the ability to knock over valuable points from midfield.
Galway and Clare are also in last chance saloon but there is less pressure on Clare. They already have league silverware. Galway, on the other hand, are low on credit. If they lose it is easy to imagine the public fallout after the players’ well-documented rift with managerial last Autumn.
Criticism by pundits, particularly when references are made to a lack of ‘heart’ or personal courage, can be a huge motivational stimulus. Tomorrow the Tribesmen are playing for personal pride. They have a cause. They must make it a battle. By any yardstick, Galway have the greater need. This usually brings a positive response.
Galway had a lot of good plays against Kilkenny. If they can build on that display and eliminate some of the poor decisions that cost them, they may be very difficult to shoot down. Galway’s ability is never questioned. It is their collective attitude that comes under the microscope.
They will have a spare man for their own puckouts. Goalkeeper Colm Callanan has to be prepared to use him and the next ball forward must be short, accurate and productive.
Shutting down Clare’s short puckout ploy, an integral part of their game, would be a good starting point. Clare’s Cian Dillon is far and away their best receiver on these plays.
If I was Micheál Donoghue, I would play three in midfield and have the pacy Conor Whelan man-mark Dillon on puckouts and in general play.
Pushing up on six of the Clare defenders and leaving the spare man free in the Banner full-back line puckouts would ensure Clare goalkeeper Andrew Fahy has only one option when going short. On these plays, Clare like to run the ball out of defence. Galway need to leave the ball carrier come forward until he runs into traffic in midfield and is forced to strike long. It is essential on these plays that no easy offloads are allowed by marking the support runners tightly.
Shutting down this tactic has to be rehearsed continually in training and requires tremendous discipline. All it takes is for one player to commit himself too early, leaving a gap and Clare will offload quickly from man to man down the pitch into scoring positions. It is about preventing scores not necessarily about preventing possession.
The Tribesmen must be patient, content to win the ball back eventually, even if it’s in their own full-back line. Galway need to play smart. Slowing down the Clare attacks by constructive fouling on the Clare half-back line and funnelling back into defence may not endear them to the neutrals but this is war for Galway and in war virtually all tactics are legitimate.
Galway’s use of the ball needs a big improvement from their Kilkenny defeat. Too many forward deliveries were aimless. The debate about Joe Canning’s best position is ongoing. A “tucked in” left corner-forward position might be best tomorrow.
Wherever he plays, he must be the ‘end user’ and needs to be fed with quality ball allowing his undoubted ability to do the rest.
Clare play a sweeper. After Tipp’s demolition of Waterford, Micheál Donoghue may be tempted to try high deliveries from the wings to the fringe of the ‘square’ with Joe Canning, Cathal Mannion, Cyril Donnellan or Niall Burke closely grouped looking for clean possession or the breaking ball.
Clare will employ their normal system with seven backs. Tony Kelly and Podge Collins will drop deep into midfield. Midfielders Colm Galvin and David Reidy will run angled support lines, shoot points from outfield or feed in high balls to John Conlon or Aaron Shanagher near the square.
Clare of course, also play best when they have a cause. Doing it for Davy could be Clare’s war cry. There is no certainty the Clare manager will make it onto the sideline. I wish him a speedy recovery and I hope he is well enough to attend.