I had to ask myself coming out of Walsh Park last Sunday: had I just witnessed Kilkenny playing a short ball possession game? Or were my eyes just deceiving me?
I went home and watched it back on Sky Plus and it turned out, no, the old eyesight is fine still. It’s Brian Cody and Kilkenny have made alterations to how they see things.
For years Kilkenny would just launch ball on top of the likes of Eoin Larkin and Henry Shefflin but now those players aren’t up there anymore. And instead of crying over or yearning for players that’ll be a long time coming around again, Cody appears to have just accepted that reality and changed it up accordingly.
The old Kilkenny values are still all there — savage workrate, honesty, playing to the team’s strengths — they’ve just changed the tactics that’s all, to play to this team’s particular strengths.
They repeatedly broke Waterford down by going with the short puckout, working the ball out very well and playing it through the lines a lot with short 20-yard stick-passes, whereas in the past they’d have looked to simply bypass as many lines as possible and leave it up to the inside forwards to win possession for themselves.
They no longer have so many players who are the complete package of athleticism, strength and skill, the way the likes of Henry, Eddie Brennan and Martin Comerford were, but they do still have TJ Reid, a great outball in Walter Walsh and enough skilful and energetic lads around them to do damage.
It’ll be fascinating to see if this is the way they intend to keep going.
Traditionally Kilkenny have been very direct, especially under Cody, but they looked very slick and comfortable playing this possession game last Sunday. Young fellas like Martin Keoghan, Pat Lyng and John Donnelly mightn’t be as physically developed yet as players we’re more accustomed to seeing playing upfront for the county but they’re highly skilful and with the experience and strength of TJ and Walsh to win and throw ball out to them, Kilkenny could be on to something.
It would tell you all about Cody’s greatness were he to turn around and make as big a change as this in his 20th season in charge and win something with it.
And you know what, he just might.
It’s hard to know where Waterford are at and even harder to know what they’re at. It’s not time for any panic yet but there’s certainly cause for some concern.
They look, at the moment, like a team unsure of its identity. They seemed to play a bit more traditional against Wexford and Tipp but then last Sunday reverted to the usual system they’ve played the last few years under Derek McGrath.
Derek has talked about sticking to a process in this league, which is totally fine. It’s hardly all about results at this time of year, but I just wonder was the process and plan all along to try out different game plans and styles or are they flip-flopping from one to the other because things didn’t go well the day before? It’s a bit confusing as a supporter and the team itself appears confused. Do we stay (with the usual) or do we go (with something different)?
I’d have been 100% behind the changes Derek made after a very difficult first year in charge in 2014.
He had a very young team to build and protect and develop and that he did, brilliantly; in the three seasons since we’ve contested two league finals, two Munster finals and an All-Ireland final.
But the thing is we’ve won only one of those finals, the league, in 2015. If the team is to push on and win more, especially an All-Ireland, at this stage in their development players need to be given more responsibility and scope to figure things out for themselves and take risks. The system has served us well up to this season but it might be growing wearisome on the players. Bear in mind, too, that opponents are more accustomed to it by now. The same way the Dubs are no longer shocked or rattled when a Tyrone or Donegal throw up a massed defence, the Galways and Tipps and Kilkennys are cuter now as to how to deal with ours.
There hasn’t been a lot of talk about him down here but the three games so far have confirmed for me that Shane Bennett is someone Waterford need back in the fold. He opted out at the start of the year for a while but you’d hope he’d be back for the championship. Just from working with Shane at U21 level, he’s a very quiet, reserved lad but someone who loves to really express himself in his hurling.
He did a serious job for the team last year in his role as a one-man full-forward line but I could see him thriving if he and the team were allowed to express themselves more. I don’t know what his status is for the rest of the year but he’s a player Waterford can’t do without.
I also have to say that a redeveloped Walsh Park can’t come along quickly enough, even though it won’t be in place for this summer’s two home games.
Last Sunday I was standing on the bank in the rain alongside an 80-year-old man from Fourmilewater because the stand was full. I was fine watching the game from that vantage point but surely we could be laying on something better for a man of that age. The county board’s plan is to redevelop the place after the second of this summer’s two championship games and have it ready for the summer of 2019, but if it means taking even longer to get it right once and for all, that would be fine with me.
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