WATERFORD V KILKENNY QUALIFIER
Waterford take on Kilkenny on Saturday night in Round 3 of the qualifiers, with the winners going on to the quarter final. A lot has been said and written about Kilkenny’s win over Tipp last weekend so I will have just a brief look back on that game. This was one of the most hyped and eagerly awaited clashes of the last 20 years or so, and in terms of excitement if not quality, it lived up to its billing. A few things struck me about the game, 1) Cummins puckouts, particularly in the second half were hit long and high down on top of the Kilkenny half back line. Had Tipp any tactics to vary their puckouts like they did in 2010 ? 2) The difference in work rate between the Kilkenny forward line and Tipp’s ( ie Shefflin winning a ball in his own half, running with it and laying off to Power, point, typical Kilkenny.) 3) Kilkenny’s poor shooting, the game would have been over with 10 minutes to go if they had taken their chances. Don’t expect it to happen two weeks in a row. 4) Lester Ryan spent the night sitting behind his own 65 helping out his half back line and cutting out the space for the Tipp half forward line. He will do the same next Saturday night. 5) Kilkenny are experts at drawing the foul, ( look at the free count 18-10) and will do so again on Saturday, but this is an area where we have become fairly good ourselves. And finally, 6) this was nothing like the great game that some analysts would have you believe, yes, it was physical and very intense but the hurling was not exceptional.
So, have Waterford any hope of upsetting the odds ( a massive 11/2 ) next Saturday night? I think we have a big chance.
OK, let’s look at the way Kilkenny will set up and how we can counteract and overcome them. The full back line will not move out the field, they will stay put even if we play a two man full forward line. The half backline will play 35 to 40 metres out from goal creating a tight defensive unit which we have become accustomed to from Kilkenny. The dominance they achieve is down to their aerial superiority and the physically intense way they play the game. Midfield, as I mentioned above, Lester Ryan will sit deep in front of the half back line with Larkin given a more attacking role. Their half forward line tend to come a little deep trying to draw out the opposition half back line therefore creating space for the full forward line who are usually inside the 13m line, or the runner coming from deep ( ie M Fennelly goal 2011 final). For the opposition puckouts their half forward line, particularly the wing forwards retreat behind the half way line to compete for the breaks, hoping again off course to pull the opposition half back line out of position creating space for the diagonal ball for the inside forwards and the runners from midfield. They have perfected this tactic over the years. To sum them up, I will give you a quote I read elsewhere which I think hits the nail on the head regarding the success of this Kilkenny team. “Kilkenny’s superiority has been based on their technical excellence, the ball winning capacity of their forwards, and the physical intensity with which they play the game. The hurlers Kilkenny produced over the past decade would have won All Irelands in any era, but the dominance they achieved was a product of the intense physicality which Cody trained into the team.
They quite simply were capable of playing the game faster and harder than anyone else. They worked harder, they hit harder, and they had the technical excellence required to take advantage when the opposition wilted. That’s why they would blow so many teams away after 20 minutes, when that first wave of tiredness hits. “
While I agree with the above quote in its entirety, Tipp in 2010 and more recently Galway and Dublin have shown that by matching that physical intensity allied to a proper game plan, they can be beaten. Can we do it ? I think we can, provided we bring that intensity to our game ( we have not done so yet this year ) allied to the right game plan and the right personnel to carry it out. Anthony Daly, Anthony Cunningham and Liam Sheedy came up with a way to beat Kilkenny so the template is already there. I will concentrate on the Galway and Dublin game plans as I believe that way is most suited to the players that we have at our disposal.
For Waterford, as I alluded to above, the team that is picked and the positioning of it must be right for any game plan to succeed. In this game, I would pick the following team allowing for injuries ( Paudie Mahoney out , Richie Foley and Shane Walsh not fully fit ).
Stephen O Keefe
Shane Fives Liam Lawlor Noel Connors
Jamie Nagle Brick Walsh Daragh Fives
Kevin Moran Paudie Pender
Shane O Sullivan Jake Dillon Seamus Pender
Jamie Baron Maurice Shanahan Brian O Sullivan
I would play our full back line close to goal, within 13 meters, and position the half backline around 35 to 40 meters out from our own goal, much like Kilkenny will, as this creates a tight defensive unit which limits the effectiveness of the diagonal ball into the FF line which Kilkenny love to use. It also cuts out the space for the KK half forwards and midfield (Larkin) to run directly at goal where they have done so much damage in the past as well as giving our FB line added protection. It does give Kilkenny more space to shoot from out the field, so, how do we deal with that? This is where I would follow the Galway and Dublin lead and make the middle third of the pitch the battleground where the match could be won and lost. Hence, the positioning of O Sullivan and Pender on the wings as these two will become more or less extra midfielders. The workrate required from Shane and Seamus will be huge as we will expect them to be constantly working from our HB line to our HF line in what will probably be very warm conditions. They will also have to drop deep in front of the our HB line for the Kilkenny puck outs. I would not expect them to last seventy minutes, but, to cut out the space for the KK HF line and midfield and to support our midfield, this work rate is necessary. Paudie Pender would be used like a sweeper in front of the HB line, picking up the breaks, supporting the player in possession and supplying our half forward line and midfield runners ( Moran and Baron, our third midfielder ) with good low ball. Paudie has experience in defence and attack for both club and county and his hurling and particularly striking is sharp and accurate which makes him ideal for this position. Slow and cumbersome striking is suicidal, especially around this area of the pitch given the manic workrate of the KK half forwards and midfield. The idea also would be that our HB line and Paudie would work the ball short whenever possible to our unmarked HF line creating scoring chances from distance or getting it in over the heads of the KK HB line to our roving 2 man FF line of Shanahan and O Sullivan. I would give Kevin Moran more freedom to attack and especially run straight at the KK defence. Remember the goal he set up for Shane Walsh in the 2009 ( I think) semi final against Kilkenny by running straight at the their defence. Moran, is in my opinion the best midfielder in the country ( Daragh Fives is a top quality half back ) and it would be an awful waste not to play him in that position. What was very important for Galway and Dublin in their wins over the Cats was bringing out an extra man around the half forward/ midfield area, Damien Hayes for Galway and Sutcliffe for Dublin. They got through a huge amount of work and got on a lot of ball creating good scoring opportunities. For Waterford I would give that task to Jamie Baron. Yes, he is young and inexperienced, but he has exceptional ability, is fast, has great awareness, good to pick out the pass and can take a score from distance. He has a great engine, is tough and not afraid of hard work and will not be fazed by the occasion. He is more than adequate to take on this role. A lot of people might be surprised to see Jake positioned at CF on the giant Hogan but no matter who we put there we will not win the aerial battle. If we learned anything from last Saturday night it is that you do not go toe to toe with this KK half backline, if we do, we will be beaten. Simple. Jake and Jamie are two super young hurlers and fair play to the Waterford management for giving them the opportunity at such a young age although Jamie Baron should not have been taken off against Offaly. Jake Dillon is a supremely intelligent hurler for one so young ( I’m sure he learned a lot from John Mullane with his club) and has a great ability to find space and has great vision to pick out that killer pass. He can score too. I think he could pose a lot of problems for Hogan, the kind he would not be used to dealing with. Maurice Shanahan and Brian O Sullivan have been our two main scorers thus far in the Championship and I would position them close together and close to goal , like Dublin did with Paul Ryan and Dotsy. The obvious reason they should stay central and inside the 13m line is to keep the space out to the side for themselves. KK will probably keep their extra man here but the closer together and further forward Shanahan and O Sullivan stay means that the extra man for KK will have to stay central and deep which creates loads of space out to the wings for our men. One major advantage that Maurice and Brian have over Murphy, Delaney and Tyrell is speed and if we can get the right ball in they will do damage. The use of the bench, on a warm evening and with a massive work rate required, will also be critical for Waterford. With players like Shane Walsh, Dean Towmey, Eddie Barrett, Richie Foley and Ray Barry waiting in the wings, we are well equipped to deal with it.
I did not mention Soky (Stephen O Keefe) above or puckout strategies but suffice to say he will not be doing a Cummins on it and hitting long high puck outs down on top of Walsh, Hogan and Joyce. I am sure he is being well coached by Pat Moore this week
So, those are my thoughts on the game. I think that if we line out like this and be patient we can win this game. Kilkenny are certainly not the force they were a few years ago but they will still bring that physical intensity to their game and if, and only if, we match that and are tactically and mentally prepared properly, we could be celebrating a famous victory on Saturday night next.