Henry Shefflin: Sweeper system is limited and will not deliver September silverware

Henry Shefflin can never see a team again winning an All-Ireland SHC title operating a sweeper system.

While Clare utilised it on their way to the All-Ireland final clashes and ultimate victory over Cork two years ago, hurling’s most decorated player says the tactic has only a limited shelf-life.

Asked if he could see a team using it to triumph in September, he said: “No I don’t think so, from personal experience. I think Waterford got to a very high standard this year and probably got to the level you can get to.

“If you think back to Dublin a few years ago, they did something similar against Tipperary in the 2011 semi-final. They nearly beat Tipperary but didn’t. You restrict one end and I feel you have to get the scores at the other.

“A lot of people say, ‘well, Kilkenny play ... defenders go back’ and we talk about the second half of the All-Ireland final. Yes, they went back but they were back up the field again. They were just ravenous for the ball more so than tactics, I would imagine.

“The sweeper system gets you so far but you just need to have that attacking style. We saw in the rugby as well yesterday (Argentina’s win over Ireland on Sunday). Attack wins out.”

Shefflin’s fellow Kilkenny man Eddie O’Connor has laid the blame for a disappointing year of hurling solely at the doorstep of Waterford, their operation of the sweeper style and the influence it had on teams like Cork.

But the Ballyhale Shamrocks man considers it differently.

“Teams didn’t play well, you look at the Munster teams, I think bar Waterford, the rest of them didn’t perform to the levels they would have liked to.

“We’ve always said Munster teams are the strongest, Clare, Limerick, Tipperary, Cork. None of them probably performed to the level they would (have liked). And obviously Dublin didn’t have a good season either. It was just Kilkenny, Galway, Waterford.

“Tactics played a part in some of the games definitely, yes, but overall I don’t think it mattered. I think teams just weren’t playing as well as they were in previous years.”

Speaking at Centra’s Live Well initiative in Croke Park yesterday, Shefflin said he can’t see too many retirements if any from the current Kilkenny panel for next season.

“Jackie (Tyrrell) is 33 and I can see Jackie continuing to play on. I don’t envisage any retirements whatsoever. We had enough of them the year before. Michael (Fennelly) will be alright. Don’t worry about Michael at all!

“For us, the club losing was a disappointment but he’s going to have a good break. You have to recognise that for the Kilkenny players ... you’re talking to Austin (Gleeson) and Dotsie (O’Callaghan) — they’re dreaming of playing in front of big crowds ... the Kilkenny lads are half expecting to be there. So why would you leave that?

Why when you could still achieve things and play in front of those big crowds, when the opportunity is still there.

“So no, I wouldn’t see that. You push through the pain barrier. All you have to do is look at Eoin Larkin who only got the cast off his finger a week from the All-Ireland final. That will tell you what the lads will go through.”

Shefflin, like so many others, was shocked at the news of the standoff in Galway where several players have let it be known to Anthony Cunningham that they don’t wish to play under him.

“As an outsider looking in, I thought they had a very good year. They brought on new players. There was a lot of depth in their squad and everything seemed to be going well. Even in the Leinster final they performed fairly well, up until the second half.

“The players just didn’t perform in the second half. Obviously, there was stuff going on in the background that they weren’t happy about. But I am surprised to see what has happened.”


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