Plotting Kilkenny’s downfall if your Waterford's Derek McGrath

Your name is Derek McGrath. You are not the referee but the manager.

Your team is facing the All-Ireland champions at Croke Park tomorrow, a county Waterford haven’t beaten in the championship since 1959.

On all known form they’ll lose by five or six points – 1-23 (goalscorer: Jonjo Farrell) to 0-20, something of that order – if you don’t find some method of playing the game on your terms.

Quite an ask, huh?

If you can’t manage that you must at any rate find some method of preventing the game being played on your opponents’ terms. As, and this is the eternal problem for all comers, most games involving Kilkenny are played.

To put it another way, you may have no choice about your eventual fate but you do at least have a choice as to the manner of your probable demise.

So which ovine entity will you be hanged for? Sheep or lamb?

McGrath faces two tasks. One is the eternal logistical one. Moving the chess pieces around the board, filling spaces, creating overloads.

Doing all this, moreover, with the explicit intention of scoring two goals, for Waterford will not win without green flags. Think of Galway’s reticence in this regard in the first half of the Leinster final.

Force Eoin Murphy to make a couple of saves, at least. That’s what he’s there for.

Then there’s the existential question: To attack or to counter-punch? To throw caution to the wind or to tread softly? This throws up a subsidiary question: is it possible for Waterford to hurl in two distinct registers? A full-on register and a counter-attacking register, a first-half register and a second-half register?

If so, which comes first? Get down into the bunker for the first 50 minutes, wait for the hurricane to pass and throw everyone into attack in the closing stages?

Or have a cut from the off, try compiling a lead and then pull everyone back behind the ramparts to defend it?

Waterford mustn’t overthink matters either or see monsters where none exist. That Tipperary hit them for five goals is irrelevant. The current Tipp forward line will do that. Kilkenny, in contrast, no longer produce their own reenactments of the Red Wedding and have adjusted their game accordingly.

Death by points. Jab jab jab. Their goalscoring record in their last five championship outings reads 1-1-1-1-1. That definitely wouldn’t bate Banagher.

Yet whatever the fine print of the challengers’ approach, this much should be accepted by all. McGrath has one duty and one duty only tomorrow: ensuring Waterford are within striking distance of their opponents with 10 minutes left.

Achieve that, whatever the manner of its consummation, however laboriously he reaches this harmonious balance between enterprise and caution, and he’ll have done his job. If after that Kilkenny pull away in the last 100 yards, no matter.

(In passing it would, for one reason and no other, be vaguely amusing to see Waterford go man on man and lose by 20 points: the stupefied reaction of the No Systems No Sweepers Party. What, you’re now saying that they shouldn’t

have taken on Kilkenny 15 on 15, lads? Riiiight...)

But the underdogs will essay something different. They have to. As a keen student of all matters Cody and Kilkenny, McGrath is well aware each and every one of their championship defeats of the past 10 years has occurred at the hands of opponents who hurled in the holes and the gaps and the margins.

Tipperary in 2010. Conventional wing-forwards in Seamus Callanan and Patrick Maher, the latter actually marking Tommy Walsh, but the other four attackers in perpetual whirls and whorls.

Asymmetric warfare, imaginative in concept and scintillating in execution. Dan Breen would have been proud of those flying columns.

Galway in 2012. Damien Hayes lying deep to screen his midfielders and Kilkenny afforded no time to dwell on the ball and take it to hand.

Dublin in 2013. Five forwards with runners streaming through from deep.

Cork in 2013. An advantage in numbers after Henry Shefflin’s dismissal and Kilkenny compounding their plight by obediently donkeying the sliotar into Conor O’Sullivan’s precinct, the last place they should have been putting it.

Waterford’s take on all of the above will entail getting Austin Gleeson to drive the car. But he can’t treat it like a sports car as he did against Wexford. That he drove five wides in the first half was bad enough. That the last four of them could be classed as bad wides – he simply kept shooting – was far worse.

Here he’ll have licence, within limitations, to roam. An attacking midfielder one minute, popping up at left-half forward the next minute, drifting in behind the enemy half-back line the minute after that and helping out in defence when the pressure builds.

While Kilkenny will surely make a point of testing his personal discipline (how will he react to a borderline-late hit?), Gleeson’s grasp of the basics of game management will be more critical still.

Being the most talented player on the team isn’t an entitlement to do everything by oneself. One wonders if McGrath has told Gleeson that sometimes you can be the hero simply by letting the next guy be the hero. If not, he ought to have. No self- indulgent wides tomorrow, please.

It scarcely requires stating the underdogs’ ratio of scores to shots has to reach a seasonal high, given their quota of the latter will be lower than usual.

Repeat their 10 wides of the first half against Tipp, never mind their 12 wides of the same period versus Wexford, and they’ll be a feline plaything on the resumption.

Some other observations.

Waterford’s first-half lassitude against Wexford can be ascribed to a combination of post-Munster final stress disorder and — a perpetual bugbear of your correspondent — a team backed by a stiff wind refusing to observe a high line with their full- forwards.

The provincial U21 decider arrived at just the right moment. The show is back on the road.

Kilkenny’s first-half lassitude in the Leinster final can probably be ascribed to the sight of maroon jersey. Familiarity breeding ennui.

We blithely declared here the day before the Leinster final Jonjo Farrell - the new poster boy for the virtues of working on one’s weak side in the ball alley — would “never again” hit his 1-5 of the Dublin match. He went and hit 1-4. The twitterati were not slow to point this out. Damn them.

Waterford will need Colin Dunford on the field at some stage. How many of their forwards have that pace that scares and commits defenders? Not Pauric Mahony. Not Maurice Shanahan. Not, despite their myriad virtues, Brick and Kevin Moran. And Dunford hit four points in last year’s semi-final.

Their most expendable forward they’ll presumably instruct to take Paul Murphy for a walk into the front row of the stand.

On the other side of the field Patrick Curran, despite his total of 0-2 from play in three championship starts this summer, could give Shane Prendergast a testing time as long as he’s not forced to pull ball out of the skies.

One hardly needs to observe that the 15 minutes after the restart will be crucial. It’s the hurling equivalent of the cox in the black and amber boat calling for “10 big ones” and his men upping their stroke rate. This will be no time for Waterford not to employ a spare defender in order to see out the storm.

A startling thought. Waterford may have more players on the bench capable of coming on and doing a particular job than Kilkenny have. Really.

Talking of essentials for the Déise, the holders helped themselves to 1-13 from play in the second half against Galway. That frankly shouldn’t be allowed to happen in one half of a top-level championship fixture. But making the other crowd earn their scores doesn’t mean giving away cheap frees either, obviously.

Waterford made a reasonable fist of nullifying Paul Murphy a year ago but sheer lack of numbers up front meant they couldn’t prevent Cillian Buckley venturing up the line and doing damage with a series of short diagonal balls he primped infield. The more forwards they have tomorrow, the less scope Buckley will have to attack.


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