Jake Dillon is patient when you mention “the system”.
For the last 18 months the way he and his Waterford team-mates set up on the field has been a topic of conversation wherever hurling fans gather, and you’ll likely hear it again before they clash with Limerick in tomorrow’s league semi-final.
Straight off the bat, then, Dillon doesn’t even consider it as a “system”.
“I know the whole country’s been talking about it, and analysing it, but we don’t see it as a system. Every team that goes out to play a game has a different way they play. Ours is based on hard work and helping each other, getting bodies around the ball. If that means a forward has to go back and help out the defenders, then he does that. It’s all for the team. If you end up inside your own 21 because of that - but the team manages to avoid conceding a goal— then obviously it’s worth it.
“We’re probably just trying to copy the template Kilkenny have set down in recent years, what you need to do to succeed. If you watch them play you’ll see the forwards working very hard from start to finish, but it’s a matter of an overall performance by the team.”
That requires a huge commitment— in belief, in fitness. It also means there’s no room for egos, because if a player flags he’s got to be replaced.
“I suppose in the past players would be reluctant enough to come off the field because they probably felt it reflected on them, that it suggested they weren’t going well. Nowadays the games are of such high intensity, and the way that we play in particular, that lads are called ashore at different times, and it’s not a big deal.
“If the body runs out of steam towards the end and fresh legs come on, so be it.
“In various games the likes of Tom Devine and Brian O’Halloran have come on and the intensity goes up a notch again. We all know our role and the aim is to be as successful as we can. Now we’re in the semi-final we see that as an opportunity, one we want to take and make the most of.”
It’s the penultimate game in the league, but it also helps Waterford get sharper for the championship game against Clare. The Hooper Dolan Insurances Ltd employee agrees: “Exactly, it’s a long year training, so you want games, and big games in particular. A double-header in Thurles with 20,000 or more at it.
“You don’t want to be watching that on the television— we were watching games on the television for a few years, so it’s great for us to be involved now ourselves.
“And you’re right, it’s good preparation for Clare then come June, to face a team like Limerick. They’re probably like ourselves to an extent, trying to catch up with the likes of Kilkenny and Tipperary.”
Limerick have welcomed back some All-Ireland club title winners, of course.
“They have some good lads back in from Na Piarsaigh, Kevin Downes got the goal against Dublin the last day, Shane Dowling chipped in with his usual points, and Ronan Lynch played the sweeper role very well for them.
There’ll be more confidence in Limerick because of that.”
Limerick have made no secret of their wish to get out of Division 1B, but Dillon points out that Waterford showed the lower tier needn’t be a huge disadvantage.
“We were in 1B 12 months ago but from being there I wouldn’t see a huge difference between it and 1A.
Every team in 1B would fancy their chances against a team from 1A. From last year Limerick would have seen that a team from 1B can do that because we did it in the quarter-final, semi-final and final.
“And that’s the mindset they’ll have. A couple of years ago they were only a puck of a ball away from beating Kilkenny on a bad day in an All-Ireland semi-final.
“We’ll fancy our chances, and so will they.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved