Dempsey: Hurling still about trusting instinct

Kilkenny v Waterford
Sunday: Croke Park, 3.30pm
Referee: Brian Gavin (Offaly)
TV: RTE, Sky Sports
Bet: Kilkenny 1/3, Waterford 3/1,
Draw 10/1

Kilkenny physical trainer Michael Dempsey isn’t long puncturing any notions that Gaelic football-type massed defences are taking over in hurling.

“It couldn’t work because you have players who can put the ball over the bar from 50 yards. I would love if a team decided to do that (massed defence), it’d be great.

“Gaelic football and hurling are two entirely different games. They’re played on the same pitch with the same number of players, same number of officials, but that’s where the similarities end.

“There were sweepers played way back. I read something recently where Waterford IT had a certain style maybe 20 years ago and where Cyril Farrell had tactical elements. I don’t really think there’s anything major about it. Waterford are very enthusiastic to get back, they want to get on the ball, but also they scored 2-21 the last day.” Dempsey pays tribute to Sunday’s opponents, and their fitness in particular, though he also makes an interesting general point about teams and their conditioning: “People might say that the team who finishes strongly in the last 10 minutes are the fitter team, I wouldn’t subscribe to that at all.

“If you get a few scores near the end, there are a lot of factors that feed into how a team is moving on the day, some of them psychological, depending on how the game is going.

“They’re obviously in great shape. I hope we are as well.”

The trainer has plenty of challenges with the black and amber. Michael Fennelly, a crucial piece of the Kilkenny jigsaw, has a serious back problem, for instance, and Dempsey says the big midfielder has to be “managed”.

“His attention to trying to get himself right and his commitment and dedication and looking after himself are top class,” says Dempsey. “It’s just unfortunate for himself that his back is the way it is and that probably puts stresses on other parts of the body as well. There’s probably a knock-on effect but he’s back doing some training. We have to see what the situation is with him.

“Practically, most of his training is individualised at this stage and I suppose that’s the same with all players. “Anybody with a history of injuries or a current injury, new players coming on, old players, more senior players, it’s trying to see the individual and managing the individual is key to having him healthy and ready for the real games that matter.”

Dempsey knows his players inside out, having dealt with them for so long; and he’s a believer in continuity.

“I think it’s hugely important if you have a good management team, obviously you want to keep them. Obviously your knowledge of the players is hugely important, it’s not all about hard data from a sports science point of view but it’s about understanding the mindset and where your players are coming from, so it’s more of a holistic approach.

“So I think continuity is huge from that point of view because your own instinct is hugely important. Sometimes, when you get a new manager coming in, you may get a bounce from that manager but I think once players are happy and the people are doing their jobs properly, then continuity is hugely important in terms of the consistencies and values you looki for in training.

“Obviously it’s a results-driven business, sometimes people should get more continuity but maybe they don’t because you have what you have and you are trying to develop players, but continuity is definitely an important factor.” Continuity on the one hand, novelty on the other. Back to Waterford’s sweeper system.

“I don’t see any major change in hurling, I don’t think sweepers have come off the planet Mars in the last few months. Teams have been playing sweepers for a long time.

“Because a team decides at a particular time they are going to play one extra player back, it’s surely not revolutionary.

“Obviously, if you have a player in there and your plan is to hit that player with every ball, one player could make the difference but all teams are more fluid than that now. I’m not sure one player can actually dictate (tactics). I don’t think in hurling you can be very prescriptive. Players play on instinct and intuition. They scan the field and make split-second decisions.

“Waterford are a very good example of that. Maurice Shanahan the last day was on the sideline but he was looking around to pick out a player. Then he has the skill to plant the ball in a player’s hand from 40 or 50 metres. Players have that ability. It’s very difficult to defend that sort of situation.” Kilkenny are without a man who’d be handy in that regard. What are their thoughts on replacing the injured Jackie Tyrrell?

“Loads of thoughts! We don’t have a hard and fast decision made. What we’ve done before will have some bearing. Whatever way it goes, we have confidence in the fellas in there to do a job.”


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