Kilkenny’s nine-time All-Ireland medallist Noel Skehan has implored Derek McGrath not to reintroduce the sweeper system which almost cost Waterford last Sunday.
The Kilkenny hurling legend believes the drawn All-Ireland semi-final provided ample proof Waterford don’t need to set up defensively to live with the leading forces.
And while Skehan doesn’t expect Kilkenny to be anywhere near as flat in this Saturday’s semi-final replay he reckons Waterford’s best chance of scoring a first championship victory over their neighbours since 1959 is if they again opt for a relatively orthodox formation.
“I am glad the bloody sweeper business is gone,” remarked the former Kilkenny goalkeeper. “I don’t like the sweeper system and I don’t like short puck-outs. Neither do hurling any service. It was lovely to see Waterford going 15 on 15 and they showed how good they are when they do.
“They got rid of the sweeper and I suppose they got rid of him for the basis of 65 minutes. They seemed to revert back to their old ways in the last six or seven minutes which could have cost them the match. Waterford went long with their puck-outs last weekend and most of the time were well able to win their own ball. That is why the game was so good.”
Is it a case then the Déise have been somewhat inhibited by the system enforced by management since the league of 2015?
“There is no doubt that Waterford have great hurlers. They are well able to win their own ball without reverting to the sweeper system. They’d hold their own with any county. I was looking at their U21s only two weeks ago and they gave an exhibition in the second half. It was something similar last Sunday. They went out and threw off the shackles. They went out and showed everyone they can hurl. I hope they do the same on Saturday.”
Skehan poured cold water on the suggestion this Kilkenny team are reaching the end of their shelf life and labelled Sunday’s show an “off day”.
“In fairness, they were due a bad game. Kilkenny are going a long time, they are going year after year after year. The day was always going to come when a few of them would play below par.
“It is bound to happen at some stage that a team will get a run on you, but I think they’ll get it right this weekend. Kilkenny won’t allow Waterford half as much space as they got in Croke Park.”
Skehan doesn’t envisage much in the way of personnel change, but fellow Kilkenny native and two-time All-Ireland medallist Adrian Ronan is forecasting a surprise starting inclusion.
“That person might be someone who has got very little game-time all year, if ever. Brian Cody is in a tremendous position in that he is the best hurling manager of all time so he can afford to spring a surprise. There may be a possibility there is a player outside the group who had a big impact in the All-Ireland intermediate win. We won it with seven or eight U21s under the radar because of their loss to Westmeath in the Leinster U21.
“Okay, it is only intermediate, but there might be a person there. Luke Scanlon, John Walsh (provider of 2-2 in the final win over Clare) and Billy Ryan are being mentioned. You don’t bring them out of obscurity. But if any person has the CV to allow that happen and not be questioned, it is Brian Cody.”
But what of those on the bench, are they not higher on the pecking order?
“Liam Blanchfield and Kevin Kelly are the obvious guys that could come in. You want someone who can do something special, Blanchfield and Kelly have that potential. They did get a chance with 20 minutes to go against Dublin [in the Leinster semi-final] and they didn’t take that chance. Things didn’t work out for them as well as people would have liked. That is the question mark, but it goes back to what is going on in training.”
Ronan added: “With our backs to the wall last Sunday, that wasn’t the time to bring in young lads. It was the time for someone with experience. That is why I expect a change from the off on Saturday and think there is a chance for one of these unknown lads to start and see can he perform like Walter did a few years ago.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved