Stephen O’Keeffe’s favourite button on his TV remote control when he’s watching back matches? Mute.
As Dara Ó Cinnéide’s GAA Nua documentary revealed, Waterford’s players are provided with their own video clips via Huddle software but O’Keeffe tends to watch back recordings too. Only with RTÉ and Sky’s co-commentators and pundits shushed.
“There was a huge disappointment after the Cork game,” he opens. “We were just beaten by a better team and I think there was a lot of over-analysis afterwards.
“We were just happy to get back into training on the Tuesday and that was the attitude of everybody. We just wanted to get back playing hurling. Offaly were extremely tough to break down early on. We struggled to deal with their extra defenders but we stayed patient and waited for the openings and in the end it worked out.
“The way hurling games are viewed a lot the last few years, if you win, you seem to be blown up and if you lose you seem to be terrible. It’s rare that you get accurate analysis. Like, if I was analysing a game I’d look back at the game with the sound turned off to get a fair thought process on what went on.
“We prepared very well for the match and I thought we hurled okay but Cork were just better on the day and sometimes you just have to put it down to that as opposed to some ulterior reason. We were just happy to get back on the horse last weekend.”
If O’Keeffe’s ear was bent enough, he might have heard Derek McGrath’s project had come to an end in losing to Cork.
Failing to reach a third consecutive Munster final wasn’t the end of the world, insists the Ballygunner goalkeeper.
It’s why he only considers the views of those with Waterford’s best interests at heart.
“In general, the media’s job is to build up a team if they’re doing really well and if they lose try and find opinions as to why they did and present them as facts, whereas in reality people who are commenting aren’t in the camp and don’t know what the gameplans were.
“If you are to listen to the analysts build up the team you’re going to play it could maybe mess with your head a small bit or on the flipside you could hear them play down a team because they had a bad loss and that could be the rock you perish on. I just find going back and doing your own analysis is best.”
One thing O’Keeffe and a growing number of pundits can agree on is the increased prominence of goalkeepers in dictating tactics and the flow of matches.
“Goalkeepers have much more of an influence on the game. Against Cork, Anthony Nash controlled a lot of the game from puck-outs. He was able to pick lads out when they created five yards of space and that’s extremely hard to stop no matter how good your players are.
“You can also have a negative influence on the game with an error or two but that’s the other side of it. That just goes with the territory. You can be the hero or the villain in the blink of an eye.”
O’Keeffe’s hold on the No.1 jersey was challenged by Ian O’Regan during the league before he was chosen to start against Cork and then Offaly. The competition was healthy.
“I think it’s down to Derek. He creates that environment in training that the player who is playing the best in training or challenge matches is going to be given the jersey. It’s good for everybody to know that if they put it in the work then they have a right chance of getting into the team.
“It makes training better and makes sure everyone is hopeful and that helps to drive the whole thing.”
For a team so accustomed with Thurles, avoiding a third straight championship defeat there this evening is motivation in itself, but the obvious one is to dispel the pain of last year’s All-Ireland semi-final replay defeat to Kilkenny. Needless to say, O’Keeffe wants to make amends on this occasion.
“It was massively disappointing especially being ahead in the first game and ending up drawing. We just couldn’t see it out, unfortunately. A lot of that was down to Kilkenny’s huge experience coming down the stretch in games. They’ve been doing it for 15 years now. They have had a turnover of players but they have the same attitude. The machine just keeps on going.
“Derek alluded it to afterwards: We’re not here for moral victories and being told ‘well done, you put on a great show’. We want to win and anything less than that is going to be disappointed. At the same time, you don’t want that result bringing you down going into this game. I can’t wait for it and getting out there.”
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