VIDEO: Championship Preview: A look forward to this year’s Hurling Championship

LET’S START WITH DEREK McGRATH’S WATERFORD....

Anthony Daly:

“I don’t think they’ll beat Cork in the Championship. Possibly an All-Ireland quarter final, maybe a semi if the draw is good to them. The spirit seems to be very good. The faster the ground, teams will play them at their own ground. Clare would have come up with this system they’re playing first day. The man beside me, Donal O’Grady, revolutionised the short passing game and not hitting it long, but in terms of their swarm around the middle and keeping fewer fellas up front, Clare maybe, with the Shane O’Donnell mode, started that.”

Donal O’Grady:

“To make it work, fantastic work-rate is essential. Your half-forwards are working like half-backs, and that takes unreal fitness.

VIDEO: Championship Preview: A look forward to this year’s Hurling Championship

The role played by Waterford’s Colin Dunfort for instance in the league, you could find him anywhere on the field. How to beat it? If you got back to the 1950’s and 60’s, if you had a right half-back who could score from out the field it was a major advantage. 

"And that’s what made a lot of people’s names at the time — alternatively if you had to withdraw a half-forward who’s a good long-range scorer and get him on the ball as often as possible. If he’s hurting the opposition, like in football with a fella who can score from 40 metres, then the defence is drawn out more and more, creating gaps.”

John Fogarty:

“I think Waterford have done this before. A lot of Waterford people don’t like this style of hurling. For a couple of years it was back to the swashbuckling style under Michael Ryan and a lot of people have turned their backs on this Waterford team, including some elements of the county board, but the league final may get more people back on board.”

Donal O’Grady:

“Seriously, how much does a county board really know? They are mostly of a certain vintage. It’s like the funeral that everyone is at the graveside of the man who won nothing with the team that won nothing, but sure, they gave great entertainment, didn’t they? 

"That won’t wash. Go down and talk to Brian Cody about entertainment. He doesn’t care. I think Derek McGrath has cut his cloth according to what he has available to him — he’s seen he’s short of forwards like Mullane and Shanahan. Now he’s deciding ‘this is the way we play’. When you take over a team, what’s the first thing you do? You set up. Look at the sides struggling in the Premier League. They give away too many goals.”

Kieran Shannon:

“The watershed for Waterford was the league game down in Clare last year when they conceded 5-18, and they concluded pretty quickly ‘we can’t keep going like this’. They were no longer going to leave themselves exposed to big beatings like that 5-18 to 0-20 game, when they’d conceded 4-15 in the first half. Now they’re set up to concede a max of two goals. They’re building under McGrath, they know this is a long-term project. Real progress this year is a quarter-final, whatever way they get there.”

HOW ABOUT LIMERICK?

Enda McEvoy:

“There’s always talk about Limerick in Limerick — even if nowhere else! 42 years of hurt and all that. They were a puck of a ball away from a final last year, they have to be cast as contenders. Look, we are looking at the widest open hurling championship for 15 years, since 1998-99. 

"You could argue two years ago was very open, except we didn’t know that at the time, we didn’t know what Clare were going to do. This year we can say with Kilkenny, and their retirements, have come even further back to the pack.... I’d be saying Kilkenny and Tipp half-a-length on last year’s form ahead of five or six other teams. I agree with Donal, Waterford are going to be undone by somebody with their most accurate midfielder or wing back, somebody slipping them a hand pass and from 70 yards and bang bang.”

Anthony Daly:

“There’s so much going on but you’d really wonder can Limerick come in under the radar again (as they did in the last two years). They’re good, they’re not that far away but there’s doubts about a few fellas. In Thurles, Clare might fancy it, create enough space for McGrath and O’Donnell inside.”

Michael Moynihan:

“I know Donal (O’Grady) has said in the past that to have a chance, everything has to be right — the county board, fitness and wellbeing, everything pulling together, and even then there are no guarantees — so it will be interesting to see how the controversy over the two lads in Clare affects them. I don’t think it can be good for them. Issuing statements, it could pull them together? I don’t know. My fear for Clare would be in the full-back line, where they’re still leaking.”

Anthony Daly:

“I got in to see them playing Laois the other night.”

Donal O’Grady:

“With a ladder...?”

Anthony Daly:

“It was on in Clareabbey, I got wind of where it was on. And they still conceded two goals.”

Michael Moynihan:

“They’re a reverse image of your team Dalo, strong at the back but struggling to put up a big score.”

Anthony Daly:

“What the Development system in the county has helped change is maybe putting the better hurlers up front now. Where before it was, especially with the weaker clubs — ‘I’ll put my best fella centre back to make sure we don’t get a tonking’ — now they’re encouraged to play the lad in a more advanced role, a la Tony Kelly perhaps...”

Donal O’Grady:

“Just a question, if you were Clare manager, what would you have done differently to get Podge Collins back in the squad?”

Anthony Daly:

“Ah with his dad in charge of the football team, it was obviously a difficult situation. As soon as the gun was put to his head for one or the other, it would have been very hard to go against the football really.”

Donal O’Grady:

“But surely there was a way around it?”

Anthony Daly:

“And there may be yet....”

John Fogarty:

“Same thing in Cork, only difference with the three lads — Aidan Walsh, Damien Cahalane and Eoin Cadogan — is that it was done right. Official statements on the website. The Collins thing could have been handled much better.”

Anthony Daly:

“Ah other things maybe, but the dogs on the street knew about that one. There would be a feeling that Cratloe could be All-Ireland club hurling champions now only for the football, but that kind of stuff was feeding into it.”

Donal O’Grady:

“I felt there was a great cartoon lost, it (the row over Nicky O’Connell and Davy O’Halloran) conjured up images. We only really heard one side. If it was me (as coach), I might have said ‘right lads you’re off the panel for three weeks, and after that time, we’ll review it again.”

Anthony Daly:

“Funny enough in Clare, a bit of turmoil feeds into the psyche, it mightn’t be the worst thing. At times we are nearly too laid back...”

Michael Moynihan:

“That’s okay perhaps for your first Championship match, with ‘we’ll show them, we’ll blow them out of the water’, but will we run out of legs maybe down the road.”

Anthony Daly:

“Hindsight at the end of the season usually allows you what we don’t have, which is perspective on where things started to go wrong.”

Donal O’Grady:

“I’ve always said that about Clare, and Loughnane did it, and it cost ye in 1998, create the siege mentality. The present manager has been influenced by others.”

Anthony Daly:

“It almost got us there, mind you, in 1998, if only one James Cooney could have set his clock right...”

Kieran Shannon:

“There is an alternative Clare way now, both on the playing side and the methodology. The reality is that Gerry O’Connor and Donal Moloney, and the success they’ve had with the U21’s have shown that other way. Davy, and the success he has had as an inter-county manager over the past seven seasons, was just what that group needed in 2013, but is he prepared to change his ways now? After the O’Halloran and O’Connell things, maybe he needs to look at himself and change too and if he hasn’t, then he’s got to win it this year. Soon the players will sense, ‘we really enjoyed our hurling under the lads (O’Connor and Moloney), They’ve got to get back to an All-Ireland semi-final because players will tune out. This is year four, and he is capable of it, but I think they’d have to go through the front door.”

John Fogarty:

“But doesn’t every team play with a chip on its shoulder. ‘Ye all wrote us off etc etc’.”

Anthony Daly:

“There’s a huge difference though between U21 and senior and the number of them that come through is few enough really percentage wise.”

Donal O’Grady:

“Clare got two years ago what they were going to get from their U21s. You can see from the problems they still have — they are short a good corner-back, they’re tried Browne and Flanagan, I don’t think they are up to it. 

"Whether Donal O’Donovan comes back into the frame, Bugler out of the Limerick game too. The big worry you’d have is if anything happens to Tony Kelly — then you are in big trouble. If you were playing him in the 60’s, you’d have some man marker take him out and if he got sent off, so what? If Tony Kelly isn’t playing with Clare, the psychological bounce you’d get in the opposing dressing-room if you heard he had pulled a muscle or something in a training game would be huge.”

AND TIPP?

Larry Ryan:

“People seem to be confident enough. In Tipperary, every All-Ireland we don’t win is an All-Ireland left after us! There does seem to be a general acceptance of that League semi loss to Waterford. No recriminations after it, which is unusual enough. ‘No panic lads’, that type of thing.”

Enda McEvoy:

“We will still be talking about that Waterford league semi at the end of the season, though —either in the context that Tipperary were never going to win the All-Ireland anyway etc or it might be Noel McGrath was out, Kieran Bergin was out, they could have won it, better off not winning it. 

"The proverbial man on the street said to me the other day, Tipperary might be better than Kilkenny this year but you know on any given day that Kilkenny will turn up. Will Tipperary do the same? That may be the biggest imponderables this summer —will Tipperary do it every day. Last two years they were caught by Limerick. Win the first match, get a bit of momentum from there.”

Larry Ryan:

“Over the last few seasons, they do seem to have that fatal 10-minute lull in them at critical times and it costs them games.”

Kieran Shannon:

“They’ve made improvements in that regard though. Even the Cork game in the League, although it was a dead rubber, 12 points down, but they kept playing and eventually won. I thought it was significant Eamon O’Shea culled the panel — one coach I interviewed called them twilight zoners — guys that are of the best 30 on the panel but are they going to push the first 15. It can get very cosy but now it’s shaken up a bit. They need to go back through front door though — they need to win Munster.”

Anthony Daly:

“He’s named a panel of 26. It’s a statement of intent.”

John Fogarty:

“I don’t know how many managers have ever signalled that this is going to be their last season in advance. O’Shea back in 2013 looked for an extra year after his first season. Only other manager I can remember doing that is Pat Gilroy, and they won the All-Ireland after it. Things might have come a little but too early for Tipp last year. Now they are well settled.”

Anthony Daly:

“Do they feel that bit of extra pressure, and does that get to them in the Munster Championship?”

Kieran Shannon:

“In 2013, on the contrary, I think they were too blasé about it, Declan Ryan had won two Munsters and maybe it didn’t mean enough to them, and all of a sudden they were down in Nowlan Park in the qualifiers. Brendan Cummins was saying to me that if often does take a third year to really get a system in place. He feels they are there now. For Eamonn, going from a coach to a manager was a jump — just little things.

When they went to warm up two years ago against Limerick, the lads were all wearing different gear. That sloppiness, he wouldn’t have been tuned to those things, but he is now.”

Donal O’Grady:

“I thought last year with Tipperary, Michael Ryan was coming out in January and saying they had one focus, the first round of the Munster Championship. It was a stupid thing to do because it put huge pressure on the players.”

John Fogarty:

“For Tipp to be winning things, they have to see the abyss at some stage. Last year, it was probably Galway in July. Seven points down, they looked done. Eamon was very ballsy and bullish defending his team last year. Living outside the county had its disadvantages. 

"There was one strong line I remember out of O’Shea last year, he gave that five or 10 second stare after saying it: ‘there is nothing that goes on in the county that he doesn’t know about...’ I’m not that sure...”

Michael Moynihan:

I’d say the Noel McGrath news knocked them back a bit more than we credited at the time because a lot of them would be his contemporaries. I think they’ll win the All-Ireland. Looking at what everyone has now, I think they’re best equipped to win it.”

AND JBM’S CORK?

VIDEO: Championship Preview: A look forward to this year’s Hurling Championship

Enda McEvoy:

“Let’s write off the 2014 All-Ireland semi final as a horrible write off. They scored 1-11. Cork should be scoring twice that. For the, the reason that Cork will take all the watching and all the beating this year is they scored 1-27 against Dublin in a league semi final having slept through much of the match. There are very few teams in the country (maybe Tipperary) who could do that. Cork are not going to be beaten for the want of running up big scores and that makes them very dangerous.”

Donal O’Grady:

“You learn in catechism about the great mysteries of the church and that semi-final loss last year for Cork was one of the great mysteries for me. You sat there after half-time, waiting, and nothing happened. Obviously there was a bit of soul-searching in the camp. The big question for them scoring 1-27 — supposing you stick in Waterford this year, or a Kilkenny, a side who can suffocate you. 

"How do you get on then? Going back to the change of system, I’d say Kilkenny were really the first team to start bringing fellas back regularly from the half-forward line. If you did the stats on Eoin Larkin, in his heyday, he spent 50% of his time back behind the half way line. They just copied it from Armagh and Tyrone. That’s the thing with Cork — to allow Noel McGrath drop deep off Mark Ellis in the semi-final last year, meant they had three in midfield. 

"James Woodlock and Shane McGrath got three points each because Noel McGrath was just feeding them the ball, Cork didn’t flood the area enough. My way of dong things is that if you’re bleeding a bit, stem the bleeding first anyway. Kill the momentum. That’s my worry for Cork — if a team employs negative tactics against them. Cork hurl away and they get big scores, but the day will come...”

Anthony Daly:

“I think Cork are similar to Clare in that there are fierce doubts about the full-back line. Conor O’Sullivan going, Christopher Joyce was being seriously looked at as an option. They are a huge way off solving that issue really.”

Michael Moynihan:

“The gas thing is they lost by 12 points and were murdered last year against Tipperary and there wasn’t a peep against JBM, and yet you see the backlash now against (Brian) Cuthbert when the same thing happens the footballers in the League final!”

John Fogarty:

“There is a rigidity to Cork though, isn’t there? They are your typical 3-3-2-3-3 whereas others are thinking outside the box. JBM got it right with Damien Cahalane against Clare last year though.”

Anthony Daly:

“We’d have played them last year in a challenge game in Cashel, and it was something like 1-26 to 1-25, and it was lovely. I rang Johnny Crowley afterwards and it was mighty stuff altogether for a Sunday evening. ‘Twas Johnny’, says I, ‘but it won’t be like that if we meet ye again in the Championship I can assure ya.’”

Enda McEvoy:

“So would you say Cork are less likely to pull a rabbit out of the hat than others?”

Anthony Daly:

“Well I would have thought that 2013 semi-final (against Dublin) would have been exactly to the script until Ryan O’Dwyer got the second yellow.”

Michael Moynihan:

“Mark Ellis has become fundamental to Cork. Does he drop back and cover, say Damien Cahalane, or does he push on into midfield? The other issue, of course, is did they get the right men in the hurling-football divvy up. The one man I would think they could do with at full-back is Eoin Cadogan. Would they have been better off sending Walsh and Cahalane to play football because I think Aidan has been under par this year, more so even than last season.”

Donal O’Grady:

“If you want to look at Ellis and his playing career, plays with CIT, plays all the Fitzgibbon. Look at Bubbles O’Dwyer too, flying at the start of the year. But it’s unsustainable. His performances lagged a bit because you can’t keep it up. How many league games has Shefflin played in the last number of years? Cody should get an award for the way he handled Shefflin. 

"What do you need your big players for? Three games. Eoin Larkin got player of the year in 2011, and he was in the Lebanon until June. The case of managing players involved in third level or U21, that’s the key. So it was no harm at all for Ellis to miss a couple of games. Centre-back was the dominant figure back before, whereas now it is arguably the most vulnerable defender. Pick some fella who can run, feed him on the wing, draw the No. 6 out...”

BROADENING IT OUT.....

VIDEO: Championship Preview: A look forward to this year’s Hurling Championship

Anthony Daly:

“We’ve been chatting for an hour and we haven’t mentioned Galway, Dublin or Wexford. They could have says. Dublin would have a good chance in Leinster with everyone fit. They’d have enough for Galway. And I think Wexford have enough to put it up to Galway this year. I still see Kilkenny prevailing but... Dublin could have a good chance of winning Leinster. But Tipp would be my team for the All-Ireland if they have everyone fit. 

"And that’s critical because if anything happens Callinan. If McGrath doesn’t come back right... They need these marquee guys because they’ve a few guys past their best — those lads still have a role to play but they need the big three marquee forwards to be there. There’s a few ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ but if you get them all out there, they have the best squad. Dublin’s league loss to Cork in the semi will have an effect on them but it’s coming to the stage for this bunch of players where they need to stand up, whatever Ger Cunningham does, or Shay Boland or Ed Coughlan.”

SO IF YOU’RE BETTER OFF LOSING, HOW...

John Fogarty:

“The Munster Championship now is almost like a poisoned chalice in relation to the All-Ireland because of the five weeks. Whoever wins Munster will have a big difficulty again.

Anthony Daly:

“I don’t ever remember in 22 years playing and managing, tapering for a Championship match. League may be different now....”

Kieran Shannon:

“I’m not sure the management of the five weeks have been rigorously scrutinised by teams because it is possible to go through the front door. Is there any team who has had to win three games in Munster gone on to win the All-Ireland? 

"I don’t think it’s been done since 1966. To peak for five games is really tough. For Clare and Limerick this year to win the All-Ireland through the front door is, statistically speaking, virtually impossible. How the system hasn’t been tweaked I don’t know.”

Enda McEvoy:

“Would you rather a quarter-final Anthony?”

Anthony Daly: “

I’ve told this story before about meeting John Allen at one of these press conferences and he’d won Munster with Limerick and we’d won Leinster with Dublin. ‘I think less is more, Dalo’ says John, and I brought them off kayaking one night. I said ‘feck it, we’d the work done, we were buzzing’ and we actually performed against Cork. Where Limerick flopped. You never know with these things whether to taper off or not. If you win, it’s right...”

Donal O’Grady:

“I’d take my chances with going straight through. What do you want as a manager? You want control of your players for three weeks. We (Cork) had to play club matches in 2003, lost two players to injury — got Niall McCarthy back three days before the game. Have your team, you know the opposition, plan what you want to do.”

GOING ALL THE WAY

John Fogarty:

It seems to be a general view that Tipperary are best equipped but they’ll probably lose along the way.”

Enda McEvoy:

“I’m slightly alarmed to find so many people sharing my semi-confidence in Tipperary. Maybe nothing more than they probably have the best 20 players in the squad at last. Tipp definitely semi-finalists — Kilkenny, Cork and Clare to join them? All I can say is where I started out, we are looking at the most open championship since 1998. It may be a la Clare two years ago, we might get a bolter. In a mediocre enough race, you often get an outsider winning.”

Larry Ryan:

“If you take that semi-final last year as a bit of a freak, it would seem the natural end to a cycle of improvement to see Cork go all the way this year.”

Michael Moynihan:

“If everyone was healthy on every team, Tipperary. But if they were playing Kilkenny in the final, I think they’d wilt. Cork won’t win unless they play Patrick Horgan at full-forward.”

Kieran Shannon:

“The five-week gap in Munster is a problem, but it will be a great championship to win because there are four cracking games in Munster. Dublin are the wild card, not Waterford. I see them in a Leinster final and possibly at All-Ireland semi-final without winning it. Kilkenny or Tipp for me. I could see Cork getting to a final without winning it. Oh for a Diarmuid O’Sullivan or a John Gardiner, a bit of that enforcer, a dog. I know Damien Cahalane is a work in progress but they need more of that to go the whole way.”

Donal O’Grady:

“Anyone of the five teams that are in Munster could win the provincial championship. Waterford will be the outsiders. If Limerick beat Clare in the first round, TJ Ryan has two games at home then. If that scenario happens, Limerick are going to be favourites for all their games. Are you better off losing the Munster final? Either way the final is irrelevant now. 

"It’s okay for a developing team but none of the counties in Munster — bar perhaps Waterford — are in a developmental phase. Straight run in Leinster between Dublin and Kilkenny, who have problems at the back — full-back and centre-back. If I was Cody I’d play Conor Fogarty at full-back. I know he was injured, but he has that competitive instinct. But they will always be dangerous because they have good forwards. It’s a six, seven-horse race.”


Lifestyle

Hannah Stephenson has advice on how to care for your garden when wet weather strikesHow to prevent and deal with waterlogging in the garden

If you're down in the epidermal dumps, exfoliation, hydration and decongesting is what you need.The Skin Nerd: How to prep and pep that played-out January skin

The Winter Show, which gets underway in New York this Friday, is a celebration of world cultures, from antiquity to the present.Time travellers are packing their suitcases for New York this week

“Finish him!” It’s one of the most famous lines in video games – in fact, they pretty much built the entire series around it. Mortal Kombat is notorious for brutal finishing moves, in which the characters kill off their opponents in horrific (and often humourous) fashion.Game Tech: Mortal line lives on in the cinema

More From The Irish Examiner