Former Kilkenny hurler Brian Hogan said that talk of hurling tactics is “blown out of all proportion” and echoed Brian Cody’s sentiments that workrate and determination are much more valuable attributes in players.
Cody qualified for his 16th All-Ireland final as Kilkenny manager after victory over Limerick on Saturday, with many analysts and experts hailing the strategies and set-ups the defeated Leinster finalists employed against John Kiely’s charges.
But speaking on the Renault Irish Examiner GAA Championship Podcast, Hogan insisted that ‘tactics’ have a minimal role in Kilkenny’s approach, saying that the focus is on exerting relentless pressure on key opponents.
Dissecting Cody’s game plan from Saturday, Hogan said: “The one tactic Kilkenny did implement, which is what we would have done back in our day, is get yourself set for opposition puck-outs” — but stressed that the defining aspect of Kilkenny’s performance was the shift put in by Kilkenny’s forwards, most notably John Donnelly.
Hogan went on to describe how Cody’s teams looked to disrupt the opposition restarts. “We would have targeted certain teams over the years and certain individuals. I remember one year where Tipperary were looking for Shane McGrath and they were looking for Brendan Maher (from puck-outs). We saw that in the semi-final, and in the Munster final — there are certain players who are the go-to guys,” Hogan recalled.
“And we said: ‘Right, can we close that out?’ That is probably the only tactic outside of relentless pressure.”
Hogan also believed that the intensity Kilkenny brought to the game disrupted Limerick and forced Kiely’s men into mistakes.
“What you do is — and Limerick love playing it from the back — but can they do it when there are three lads in their faces and they’re getting hit? And all of a sudden, rather than taking a right decision with the ball, they’re making decisions they don’t ordinarily make and things start to break down.
“They start doubting themselves. Lads make decisions under huge pressure — split seconds — do they make the right decision? Well, they have a better chance of making it if they’re used to it (that pressure), but what if it’s the first time they’ve come across that in a year? That’s the height of it.”
Hogan dismissed any suggestion that there was more to Cody’s tactics book, saying: “Lads will try to make a science out of it, but it’s nothing more than that, and Brian (Cody) will hone in on that. What he does well is if lads are 6ft tall, he’ll make them feel 7ft tall and they’ll fully believe that they can take over the pitch.”
However, Hogan was unimpressed by the Dónal Óg Cusack and Derek McGrath’s obsession with sweeper-based tactics during their analysis of the All-Ireland semi-finals on The Sunday Game.
Cusack described the criticism directed at the style as being “part of the last remnants of British culture on these islands”.
But Hogan slammed the analysis on a weekend when hurling should have been celebrated.
He said: “I thought it was ridiculous.
“We had two unbelievable matches and people were waiting to get stuck into the analysis and we got what felt like a rant for 10 minutes justifying sweepers.
“Every county is entitled to set up the way they see fit with the players they have. (But) they are almost paranoid in trying to justify their own (tactics).”
Irish Examiner columnist Anthony Daly pointed out that such a tactic requires buy-in from the whole team, saying: “What it would require from me is an absolutely ferocious level of work from the forwards — backs we associate with that sort of work, but not from the forwards.”
Hogan went on to describe how Kilkenny will pick up players as a collective: “The extent of tactics when I was there, outside of puck-outs, was do you stick or twist in terms of the backs, do you go man-for-man, or do you go zonal?
“We would have always played zonal in terms of you hold your position, if Seamus Callanan is in the full-forward line then JJ (Delaney) would pick him up, but if he goes out the field, we aren’t going to change our team around.
“The winning or losing of (the Limerick game) was how we were going to manage their half-forward line, because they play a very similar style to us, the half-forward line come back looking for the ball and hungry for the ball.
“Were our lads going to follow them up the field? What they did was they held, and they trusted the guys out the field and said: ‘I know you’re going to be outnumbered lads, but we’re going to work like dogs and hit everything that moves.’ Make it a warzone out there.”
Ironically Wexford boss Davy Fitzgerald had launched an impassioned defence of his Wexford team’s style of play after Sunday’s defeat to Tipp.
“I am so proud of how we played that game today,” he said. “People talk about the sweeper system being negative, but these people need to get off their high horses and look at hurling.
“People talk about things they haven’t a clue about. We were getting attackers free all over the place — we had three goals and we could have had six. That’s the way to play hurling — not get it between two people and beat the lard out of it. People need to stop and have look.”
Meanwhile, Tipperary goalkeeping legend Ken Hogan felt the Tipp fightback epitomised everything about manager Liam Sheedy.
“People talk about All-Irelands, but Liam’s biggest achievement in hurling was winning a North (Tipp) championship with Portroe. He came in, himself and his brother John and they masterminded an incredible win against a very good Toomevara side in front of 8,000 people. Portroe-never-says-die attitude, he instils that in everybody.”
Hogan also pointed to the county’s Munster U20 success against Cork last week as a key fillip for the county — and the likes of Jake Morris. “That was a big boost for the county, and in the cauldron yesterday, young lads who came off the bench — Jake, Willie Connors, Mark Kehoe, Ger Browne who was very smart with the ball — all made a huge impact.”