Thursday 17 August 2017

Comment - Derek McGrath can't let lightning strike twice in battle of wits with Brian Cody

Gleeson can be pivotal in tactical battle but Deise need a plan to crush Cats 'diamond'

Austin Gleeson did damage to Kilkenny last year and his position for Saturday’s match will be the subject of much debate. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Austin Gleeson did damage to Kilkenny last year and his position for Saturday’s match will be the subject of much debate. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Jackie Cahill

Seconds out, round five. For the fifth time in as many seasons, Kilkenny and Waterford are preparing to lock horns in a knockout senior hurling championship clash.

Taking the previous four meetings as an aggregate, Kilkenny have prevailed by 11 points - with a 2016 All-Ireland semi-final draw and a 2013 qualifier classic that went to extra-time thrown into the mix.

There's not much to separate these two and the feeling is that it will be something similar at Semple Stadium on Saturday evening.

Tactically, it's set up for another fascinating battle, as rival managers Derek McGrath and Brian Cody pit their wits against each other for the fourth time in championship hurling.

There's a feeling that Waterford are getting closer and closer to finally landing a knockout summer punch on Kilkenny - and victory for the Déise would mark their first in the championship against the Cats since 1959.

Both counties suffered demoralising provincial exits - Waterford against Cork and Kilkenny at the hands of Wexford. But last weekend, they emerged unscathed from Round 1 qualifiers, with varying degrees of difficulty.

Waterford sauntered past Offaly with 24 points to spare, while the Cats won a tough encounter against Limerick by three points.

Offaly manager Kevin Ryan's decision to play with a double-sweeper made life easy for Waterford on Saturday, allowing them to play an extra man at the back themselves, and without too much fuss.

With Barry Coughlan asked to pick up Offaly danger-man Shane Dooley from the start, Tadhg de Búrca provided an extra comfort blanket in front of him.

It's a ploy likely to be revisited on Saturday, with McGrath conscious of the damage inflicted early by Colin Fennelly in last year's All-Ireland semi-final replay.

Fennelly, Kilkenny's recognised target-man inside, raised two green flags inside the opening 10 minutes but, as former Waterford defender Stephen Frampton noted, he cut a "frustrated" figure against Limerick on Saturday.

"He looked like the most frustrated man in Kilkenny on Saturday evening," Frampton noted.

"He didn't seem to be getting on a whole lot of ball and was well held. I felt sorry for him. He was making lovely runs but everything he tried didn't work."

Frampton suspects that Saturday's game with the Cats will pan out similar to last year's replay, although he's naturally hoping for a different end result.

He predicts: "Waterford a bit more conventional and Kilkenny will be their usual selves.

"They (Kilkenny) won't have a sweeper but they'll move players deeper, with Richie (Hogan) further out and playing around the middle of the field, and TJ (Reid) will be a deep centre forward."

While Cody might not be renowned as a tactical mastermind, he did very well in that classic Thurles encounter last August when utilising Richie Hogan, TJ Reid and Michael Fennelly as part of a midfield diamond.

Fennelly's return to fitness is a colossal boost for Kilkenny and he was superb against Limerick on Saturday in that middle third warzone.

Having him back allows Cody to potentially use his 'big three' in that area again, with Reid, Hogan and Fennelly inter-changing fluidly between centre forward and midfield. While Waterford's Hurler of the Year Austin Gleeson is expected to sit at centre forward again, Cillian Buckley is likely to be picking him up, having impressed at centre back in the Limerick game.

That leaves McGrath with a choice to make - leave Gleeson there to take his chances against Buckley, and potentially nullify one of Kilkenny's best defenders, or ask Gleeson to roam.

What this would do is perhaps draw Buckley out of the centre, creating central channels for Waterford to exploit.

Buckley may be instructed to hold the centre by Cody but the manager might be reluctant to see Gleeson moving away from that centre forward position and wreaking havoc in a floating role.

Cody's already suffered in that regard this year - when Lee Chin drifted off Buckley to cause so much trouble for the Cats in the Leinster semi-final.

Darragh Fives is also a factor around the middle of the field for Waterford.

Named at corner forward against Offaly, he was handed a free role further back and made 13 plays in the first half alone.

Waterford operated with two men inside - Shane Bennett and Maurice Shanahan - and while one of the personnel might change, it's a tactic they're likely to go with again.

Target-man

Shanahan didn't start either semi-final against Kilkenny last year, and has been in and out of the team, but with Tom Devine no longer part of the set-up, he appears to be Waterford's only real recognised target-man.

Waterford are expected to set up with seven defenders and Fives as a third midfielder, which would allow skipper Kevin Moran the licence to push up and influence matters in the final third of the pitch.

Frampton noted: "Against Cork, they didn't go absolutely hell-bent on the sweeper.

"They tried to crowd it a bit in the middle third, more so, but it just didn't work for them on the day.

"Kilkenny only had two in their full-forward line on Saturday night, which is quite unusual for them.

"But they do pull players back the field alright, and Richie Hogan usually ends up around the middle, but they don't make it as obvious.

"I think Waterford will sit a bit but I don't think it will be as obvious as previous years. They've moved on from the pure sweeper role."

The old saying is that Kilkenny don't do tactics and while there may be certain merit in that, this one could boil down to a simple case of who wants it most.

Frampton adds: "For Waterford, and particularly East Waterford people, the match against Kilkenny is very hard not to look forward to.

"It's hell for leather now, do or die, and what a match to have."

Subscribe to The Throw-In, Independent.ie's weekly Championship podcast, for the best in GAA discussion and analysis every Monday, with some of the biggest names in football and hurling from Joe Brolly, Tomás Ó'Sé, Brendan Cummins and John Mullane.

Subscribe and listen to The Throw-In podcast on iTunes or SoundCloud.

throwinlogo2.png

Irish Independent

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport