Sweeping tactical talk aside: McGrath on hurling’s tweaks and theories

Waterford manager Derek McGrath in full voice during the recent All-Ireland semi-final win over Cork.

Waterford hurling manager Derek McGrath cited Kerry’s defensive structure in Sunday’s All-Ireland SFC semi-final against Mayo when discussing hurling tactics yesterday.

McGrath’s Waterford have been criticised for playing a sweeper system but the manager said “there’s no 15 on 15” in hurling and that the game is evolving.

“I’m not any kind of theorist or anything like that, but the language that is out there in terms of 15 versus 15 — there’s no 15 on 15.

“What I mean by that is that if a wing-back tracks back 80 yards and his man is not with him, that means it’s not 15 on 15. Because if it’s 15 on 15, number 10 should be with number seven.

“So it’s a fairly simple argument for me. But that’s a problem for the GAA at every level. I was at an U11 game the other night, the mentor shouts in at the young fella ‘get out in front’. The young fella gets out in front but by being out in front, he’s out 60 yards. The ball goes over his head — do you stay in?

“The language, the whole thing — when you say things like the game is evolving... we’re all old-fashioned about it. But there’s a definite change about it. I’m looking forward to getting stuck into a debate about it.”

McGrath used Sunday’s football semi-final draw to support his argument.

“I watched the football last Sunday and there was a great debate afterwards about Kerry’s defensive structure and the balance between man-marking and if you’re following your man, you’re opening up space then for someone else.

“And I thought Ciarán Whelan was brilliant showing Keith Higgins’s role.

“I thought it was brilliant — a really good piece of analysis that showed Keith Higgins marking but then when they lose possession, Lee Keegan would go to left-half back and Higgins would funnel back to the ‘D’. But then when they were attacking, he was available as well.”

The De La Salle club man added that Waterford “tweak” their approach every time they play: “The argument between traditionalists and purists versus innovation... I think we’re all traditionalists. We all love hurling. We all live and die for it. I think the guns are loaded too easily behind the whole debate. We’re playing the game the way we feel the game should be played every day we go out but we’re tweaking it.

“Every team are. A really good piece of analysis that I’m sure ye’ll all look at was mid-summer by Liam Rushe, the Dublin player when he spoke about Galway. I’m sure ye’ll tap into that.”

The Waterford boss cited Austin Gleeson’s stunning goal against Cork in the All-Ireland semi-final as evidence against his side being restricted by tactics.

“There’s structured flair. This argument that everyone is being hamstrung by instruction. People asked me does it irritate me. It doesn’t really. It’s just not true.

“How hamstrung was Austin going in on goal the last day? Dummy handpass one way, dummy hand-pass another way, and then you flick the ball off your hurley into the net.

“I don’t think that’s someone who is being absolutely restricted.”


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