Saturday 19 August 2017

Brendan Cummins: Brian Cody's tactical blind spot a major problem for Cats

Liam Ryan tries to break free from the clutches of Colin Fennelly during Saturday’s clash. Photo by Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
Liam Ryan tries to break free from the clutches of Colin Fennelly during Saturday’s clash. Photo by Daire Brennan/Sportsfile

Brendan Cummins

It looks like many of us got it all wrong about Kilkenny.

I, for one, certainly gave them far too much credit before they played Wexford.

I underestimated the power of Wexford's momentum.

I felt Kilkenny would win by five or six points but this could be a theme of the summer - the so-called big guns falling like skittles.

I just thought the Cats might have been holding something back, ready to spring from the long grass.

But they met an immovable force and the veil of invincibility slipped further.

Their team wasn't publicly announced on the Friday night before the game.

Were they hiding something or were they worried? The latter, as it turned out.

I would have based Kilkenny's chances on their top forwards playing in attacking roles, that TJ Reid, Richie Hogan and Walter Walsh would have complemented Colin Fennelly's superb efforts. Fennelly took on the Wexford full-back line almost single-handedly.

TJ delivered a workmanlike performance but was restricted to scores from placed balls.

If Kilkenny are to recover and progress in the Championship, therein lies the problem.

Those four must be inside the opposition '65' to cause problems for opponents.

Wexford, on the other hand, had Lee Chin, Conor McDonald and David Redmond, when he came on, playing big roles. Chin was a giant, and showed leadership qualities far beyond what I thought he possessed.

Any time he was on the ball, he broke the gain-line and marched forward, signalling intent to his colleagues that they were no longer playing against Kilkenny on the back foot.

It was a massive surprise that Kilkenny didn't leave Cillian Buckley on Chin, because Buckley's the only dynamic defender that Kilkenny have in their ranks.

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His physicality and pace might have not have fully nullified Chin, but those qualities could have lessened the Wexford man's impact.

This is one of the main errors that Cody and his backroom men will mull over in Langton's, when they conduct the autopsy.

It's not the only thing they have to consider. Kilkenny saw Wexford up close and personal in the League quarter-final but learned nothing.

They continued to bomb puck-outs down on top of Wexford's spare man and never got their defenders isolated one-on-one, without the comfort of the sweeper.

As I learned through the years, you need more thought when trying to dissect an opposition back-line.

Kilkenny have flattered to deceive for the last 12 months but maybe the new reality is that the talent has simply run dry. They were relying on 32-year-old Michael Fennelly, with a dodgy back and recovering from a serious Achilles injury to be the man to bail them out of trouble this year, if fit.

We've been so used to seeing the black and amber pulling it out of the fire but our vision was blurred by past memories and glory days.

Some might think that Kilkenny will come out all guns blazing in the qualifiers but their options are extremely limited.

People will criticise pundits and accuse us of sensationalising events at Innovate Wexford Park on Saturday night. But maybe a reality is dawning on the hurling community, that Kilkenny have slipped back into the pack.

I can't see them winning five games to finish as All-Ireland champions.

For the first time, Cody is now working with players who are not of the required standard.

That's a problem, coupled with him never being viewed as a tactical genius.

What he had in the past were men on the pitch to sort out any issues that arose but he now finds himself having to devise a system of play to suit the players at his disposal.

Kilkenny have always prided them on the simplicity of their approach - hand out the 15 jerseys, tell the lads to win their individual battles, and we'll see you at half-time.

But on Saturday, when Kilkenny were bent out of shape, the result was Padraig Walsh and Ger Aylward being subbed before the break.

A worrying pattern for Kilkenny supporters has started to emerge in the last three serious outings - the 2016 All-Ireland final, and their League and Championship clashes with Wexford this year. They didn't seem to have a plan in place.

For example, Cody knew going into Saturday's game that Wexford would play with a sweeper and, by default, he would have one too.

For me, Padraig Walsh was ideal for this role, but he found himself at centre-forward.

Say what you like, Davy Fitzgerald is a manager who gets the maximum from the players at his disposal, and they play to a system that suits them.

Cody, on the other hand, is putting square pegs in round holes.

Looking at the respective team-sheets, I wouldn't have noticed a massive difference between the teams in terms of talent but Wexford were seven or eight points a better team because Davy has more tactical nous.

If there's a weakness in Cody, this is it, setting up his team. In fact, it's a blind spot.

To a large degree, that's not even his fault because he always had guys on the pitch who'd make the changes themselves.

I've seen it at first-hand, Henry Shefflin on the pitch telling other guys where to go, without any sideline prompt.

But Cody doesn't have a huge amount of leaders on the pitch anymore. TJ Reid would be one but he's often too far from the opposition goal when he's on the ball, and not a real threat to anyone on current form.

Richie Hogan is struggling to find anything. He needs to find some form again, playing at centre-forward, ghosting on to balls and winning puck-outs. That's still in him but to find the spark again is the big challenge for a former Hurler of the Year.

Overall, Kilkenny have no apparent plan, their style of play is one-dimensional and contributing to them playing without confidence. This is why they're headed for the back door.

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