It’s not even three months since Brian Cody vowed ‘never’ but TJ Reid has suggested it may be time now for Kilkenny to bow to pragmatism and consider deploying a sweeper.
Cody, Kilkenny’s 11-time All-Ireland winning manager, has traditionally set his team up in orthodox fashion and as recently as February stated that, ‘personally, whatever team I’d be involved with, with the club or Kilkenny, I could never see myself employing an actual sweeper’.
However, the use of a sweeper has been a key part of Waterford’s resurgence at the top level and they will challenge this weekend for back to back Allianz League titles.
Waterford manager Derek McGrath suggested this week that a number of other counties have gone down the same avenue of playing at least seven outfield defenders.
As for MacCarthy Cup holders Kilkenny, their defence was cut asunder by Clare who, playing with a sweeper, struck four goals in the semi-final of the league, prompting Hurler of the Year Reid to nod when asked if his team may have to compromise on their principles and do likewise.
“We’ll have to definitely look at it, yeah,” said Reid. “We’ve never had a sweeper and even against a strong breeze we’ve never had a seventh defender. But yeah, I definitely think it’s something we’ll have to implement in training, just to get our heads around it, just to try and have a game plan, to make sure we’re not hit for that seventh defender and we’re not looking around asking questions. Sunday’s league decider between Waterford and Clare is expected to be one of the most tactical finals yet and Reid described it as a fascinating prospect.
“The middle third is going to be very congested because they tend to bring out everyone to try and crowd that middle third,” he said of Clare. “I think whoever’s tactics work on the day will win. Waterford are going well as well but going on the performance against us, I probably would be going slightly with Clare.”
Reid admitted that Kilkenny didn’t do as much preparation work on Clare before the league semi-final as they would normally do for a championship game. But he denied that the Cats weren’t overly bothered to lose the tie or that they were content to sign off on the league campaign.
“They were driven and persistent all over the field,” said Reid. “They got a lead on us, we got to grips in the second-half, but they just tipped on. I think in the 53rd minute they got a goal to move them on again. We just couldn’t get close to them, they kept tipping away with points and scores.
“On the day they beat us, fair and square, we have no question marks over it. On the day, we weren’t good enough but we were missing five starting figures; Paul Murphy, Mick Fennelly, Conor Fogarty, Colin Fennelly and Eoin Larkin. Five big players to be missing against a good Clare team. If we had those players, it could have been a different scoreline.
“I think on the day we were still at league pace, Clare were at championship pace. All over the field they seemed to be winning breaking ball and were a lot hungrier on the day. Their intensity was a lot higher too.
“Maybe they’ve more work done than us. That is the way it seemed to me. We seemed to be at league pace. We haven’t really found that gear yet. Hopefully we are saving it for the championship.”
Kilkenny are set to be without former All Star midfielder Michael Rice and defender Brian Kennedy who have been released from Cody’s panel.
“Michael was a top class hurler, sad to see him go,” said Reid.
“He wanted to come back this year and settle a few scores but just injuries have really plagued him. If we had Michael flying this year in midfield, half-forward, he’d be a great addition to us but just couldn’t get back right from that cruciate knee ligament injury that he had last year. Sad to see him go.”
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