Context required in Munster final 'U-turn' discussion
Published 27/06/2016 | 02:30
There's an old saying that a week's a long time in politics. In hurling, 12 months is a hell of a long time.
I'm not on social media myself, I've no time for Twitter or any of that, but I was made aware of online discussion surrounding comments I made urging Waterford to travel to Thurles for last year's Munster final - and my suggestion last Monday that they should head for Limerick this time round.
This supposed about-turn must be placed in its proper context. Last year, Waterford were on the crest of a wave ahead of a Munster final against Tipperary. They'd won the league and this was essentially a 'free shot' against Tipp.
Not a huge amount of expectation, despite what some might have you believe, and the approach was more laissez-faire. It was a case of 'let's do this, let's have a go at them in Thurles.' There was a financial incentive for the Waterford County Board too, at a time when they badly needed the cash.
There was nothing to fear but fast forward to now and that's all changed. We lost there last year and if history repeated itself, Derek McGrath would face the inevitable question - why did you opt to go to Thurles again?
Bear in mind, too, that Tipperary were coming off a 16-point victory over Limerick in the Munster semi-final, at the Gaelic Grounds. This year, neither team has played a game in Limerick but Tipp played two championship games in Thurles and won them both comfortably.
The counter-argument is that Waterford played two league finals against Clare in Thurles - and a Munster semi-final - but this team is in a much better place than 12 months ago. Expectation levels have risen considerably and it's a Munster final that Waterford have to win. This time, nothing can be left to chance. It made sense to play in Thurles last year and it makes sense to play in Limerick this year.
Before that, there's a Leinster final down for decision at Croke Park next Sunday, and I'm tipping Kilkenny to more than cover the spread and win by at least six points against Galway.
I just wonder where Galway are at this point in time. You simply can't judge them on their league displays, when they were relegated, and there were no real clues either in the championship victories over Westmeath and Offaly.
I think Galway have regressed since last year. Some people that I've spoken to believe they're All-Ireland contenders but I don't agree. The loss of Johnny Glynn is huge. His power and physicality are tailor-made for Kilkenny and essential ingredients if you harbour any hopes of beating them.
We also need to talk about Joe Canning. The question marks surrounding his best position on the team still hang over the Galway camp. There must be a temptation to place Joe inside and target a Kilkenny full-back line that is arguably their weakest sector.
If there's any potential chink in the Kilkenny armour, it's their full-back line but having Joe in the half-forward line can also work to Galway's advantage. He's enjoyed success there against Kilkenny in the past but he cut an isolated figure closer to goal in the second half of last year's All-Ireland final.
Galway could really have done with him as an extra man in the middle third, an area that Kilkenny flood with bodies. Galway will need support for their midfielders and half-back line because as we saw in the Dublin game, that middle ground is where Kilkenny flourish.
They bring back the likes of Walter Walsh, Michael Fennelly and Conor Fogarty to provide extra cover for a dominant half-back line. If I was Galway manager Micheál Donoghue, I'd have Joe inter-changing between full-forward and centre-forward but I'd start him at number 11, for his physicality alone and to help Galway get off to a good start.
Look at Galway's best performance last year - against Cork in the All-Ireland quarter-final. Their forwards were constantly on the move between various positions and that nullified the influence of the Cork sweeper.
Another big call for Donoghue is the positioning of Cathal Mannion. The corner-forward was a revelation last year, picking up an All-Star award, but in two games against Kilkenny, he struggled against Paul Murphy.
If you're Donoghue, would you pitch Mannion in against Murphy again? The answer for me is a definite no. Mannion was taken off in last year's Leinster final with eight minutes remaining and he could face a similar fate if he's pitched again on Murphy, a Hurler of the Year contender.
Kilkenny, for their part, are sure to target the Galway full-back line. We saw last season, particularly in the All-Ireland semi-final against Tipperary, how vulnerable they are under an aerial bombardment.
That's a problem area for Galway and further forward, it remains to be seen whether or not Conor Cooney's appeal is successful. He was coming back into a bit of form and showed up well in the Offaly game before receiving a harsh red card.
Cooney would provide a more than useful attacking option as Galway try to break through the brick wall that is Kilkenny's defensive unit. That unit covers their half-forward line, midfield, half-back line and the man-mountain that is Murphy further back.
This is how Kilkenny win the vast majority of their games - sheer work rate in each line and swamping their opponents with numbers. The answer for me is that man Joe. Take a chance on him at centre-forward and go from there. Still, it's Kilkenny for me again, even though I think Brian Cody will hold Richie Hogan in reserve.
The Dublin game will have brought Eoin Larkin on a ton and I don't think Cody will tinker with a winning formula. It's a formula I expect to land a third successive Leinster crown for the all-conquering Cats.