David Burke, having not minced his words all summer long, wasn’t about to change tack in advance of Sunday’s closing act. His latest assertion is that whoever wins the midfield battle will take home Liam MacCarthy.
An interesting observation on the part of the Galway captain given that’s where he’ll be stationed, Galway’s ability to get over the line in the semi-final despite coming off second best in this department and, lest we forget, the absolutely lightning form of Waterford’s midfield pairing of Jamie Barron and Kevin Moran.
Barron and Moran have clipped 4-20 from play this championship, a long way clear of the 0-11 chalked by Johnny Coen and Burke.
Then again, Coen is a converted midfielder having spent the first five years of his Galway existence in defence.
Given his pedigree as a corner-back, mind you, that could serve him well for the task of following Barron around Croke Park on Sunday afternoon.
That leaves Burke to pick up Moran, or Moran to pick up Burke, depending on who takes the lead when this particular dance gets up and moving.
“They got 2-5 against Cork from the middle of the field. All year, they have been the engine room for Waterford,” says the 27-year old.
“I came up against Kevin loads of times in colleges hurling and he is a spiritual leader for them. Johnny [Coen] and I have been chatting since the game and looking to see how we can nullify their threat. They will be doing the same. The midfield battle is key and whoever wins it will probably win the game.
“We might have lost the midfield battle and still got past Tipperary. If we don’t win the midfield battle the next day, will we still win the game?”
Burke’s consistency in the maroon and white has seen him collect All-Stars in 2012, ’15 and ’16. The semi-final wasn’t one of his better outings, though. Brendan Maher was the most dominant hurler at midfield.
That didn’t, however, lend itself to any sense of personal frustration on the part of the St Thomas’ man. He was given a job to do — sit deep in front of Tipperary centre-forward Patrick ‘Bonnar Maher’ — and reckons he did it satisfactorily.
“I felt we were putting our own stamp on the game in the second half. Tipp have a serious forward unit and if they got open space at all, they would really do damage. So for Johnny and I, our plan was to sit back and especially with Bonner at centre-forward… I think us taking him out of the game made a huge difference to them in terms of ball winning.
“It wasn’t pretty hurling but we got there. Being able to grind out the result was really pleasing. Having the performance we did last year in the semi and not winning: You don’t really care. You just want to win.” It’s unlikely he’ll be asked to reprise that role this Sunday, what with the sparsity of Waterford players to take up arms in the Galway half of the field. He’s not a fan of the sweeper but knows how effective it can be.
It’s unlikely he’ll be asked to reprise that role this Sunday, what with the sparsity of Waterford players to take up arms in the Galway half of the field. He’s not a fan of the sweeper but knows how effective it can be.
“I remember the 2015 final, Richie Hogan was sitting very deep. And I was thinking that everyone says Kilkenny don’t have tactics when they do, like. He was playing practically as a centre-back, with their actual centre back playing deep. That was them closing out a tight game.
“I have massive respect for Waterford and they seemed to build this process from when Derek was in school with De La Salle. Sunday might start out as a bit of a chess game. After that, it might open up to be a thriller.”
Their last meeting — the league quarter-final back in early April — was plenty exciting. Waterford, despite management resting a number of regular starters, found themselves 2-17 to 1-10 in the clear at Pearse Stadium with 44 minutes run on the clock.
“I remember saying to Johnny Coen that if we were here playing against ourselves and were 10 points down, we would probably come back and win it. The approach we took is that this is no different. And I remember saying to the half forward line that if we could pull out a bit and get on top of their puck-out, we could have a purple patch. That is what happened. It opened up.”
A rousing closing quarter from the hosts propelled them across the line with three to spare.
“It was massive. I remember leaving that day and I think people felt afterwards that there was something good to get onto there and there was a massive crowd in Limerick for the semi-final and for the final.”
A case of having not since looked back.
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