Cyril Farell: Thankless task for forwards as the sweeper systems reign
Published 02/05/2016 | 02:30
It was very funny at half-time with everyone around me saying "Oh for God's sake, is this what hurling is coming to?", but no one can deny the incredible entertainment which Clare and Waterford served up in Thurles.
It mightn't have been what the purists wanted but if either side won by a point they wouldn't have cared. Both teams know each other, and their systems, inside out and it was always going to be a cagey affair.
Sitting in the stand and looking at the carnage in the middle third was a sight to behold. There were bodies everywhere, like last orders in the local chipper on a Saturday night. If you dwelled on the ball for a second you were swallowed up.
It was tough going and you had to be on the top of your game. There was heavy traffic and you'd have expected it to open up but to be fair to both defences, they never really looked in too much trouble apart from the two sniffs at goal which Tom Devine had in extra-time.
For the purists they probably think it's terrible but if you're going to play either of these sides straight up, you're going to have to be an outstanding team to beat them because they have their system down to a tee.
And they're not going to change. It's a results-based business and as long as they win, they'll fully justify their tactics. It's hard on spectators because it's like a game of chess and there's very few goal chances but they're contesting finals at it so I don't see them changing.
A lot of people I know had bets on no goals being scored and it was never going to be easy to hit the net. Being in the full-forward line in these types of games is a thankless job with two or three backs to every forward.
That's what the sweeper system is like but Shane O'Donnell, Aron Shanagher and Maurice Shanahan all had some success as the lone striker. You have to break your ass because the defending team always has an extra man.
Both sides were brilliant at utilising the sweeper. If you get the ball you can't hit it long because the opposition defence is on top but if you can break the tackle and give a little pop pass off the shoulder, like in Gaelic football, then you're on the break and can score from distance.
Both Fitzy and Derek McGrath will have a few tricks kept up the sleeve but not too many. Both were going gung-ho yesterday but Fitzy will be able to call on David McInerney and John Conlon for championship, which is huge.
Colm Galvin and Tony Kelly are big team players and they weren't playing well last year but they're back in the groove now, while the likes of Oisin O'Brien and David Fitzgerald have come out of the blue and been a revelation.
This has created a number of welcome headaches for Davy because he couldn't change the team after the Kilkenny game, but you could see plenty of changes for the next day because he has more bodies to call on than in the past with David Reidy and Tots O'Connell all stepping up to the plate.
On the other side, Derek McGrath will have learned a lot and much of their mistakes can be quickly remedied. He'll sit down with goalkeeper Stephen O'Keeffe because he can't be pucking four balls out over the sideline again. Also the frees can also be corrected pretty easily and I'd imagine you'll see Maurice Shanahan or Pauric Mahony taking over.
I thought the frees would be the nail in their coffin because you have to have a free-taker on song. Waterford missed a crazy amount whereas Conor McGrath was radar-like for Clare.
Their substitutes made a huge impact yet again, however, with Devine and Tommy Ryan lively in attack. Shane Bennett had a fantastic game and kept winning the hard ball. He dragged Waterford back into it, while at the back their defence held strong with Philip Mahony and Tadhg de Burca keeping Clare out.
But it was very noticeable at the end of the 70 minutes that there were five or six Waterford lads going down and maybe only one Clare player and they'll have to look closely at the training they're doing and make sure there's more juice in the tank.
I know it was a vicious game but Austin Gleeson came off with a double cramp before the end. They were all cramping and that's make you wonder a little bit what's going on and I'd imagine the week turnaround might suit Clare a little better.
Waterford were dropping like flies near the end. You'd imagine Clare would be a little bit fresher. I think the edge may be with the Banner next Sunday as they were marginally the better side for the first 70 minutes.
Yesterday's other main talking point was Westmeath's defeat of Offaly. Michael Ryan is doing a fantastic job down there but to me there's something radically wrong in Offaly. There's no way that Offaly should be beaten by double scores by Westmeath.
It's a sad day because you need everyone up there and you need Offaly up there too. I don't know what's going on in Offaly but something needs to change and things are obviously not being done at a fast enough pace.
Gym work and conditioning are crucial nowadays but their hurling is not being played at the speed of the top counties. Waterford and Clare have a lot of their hard work done at this stage and I know from both camps, and in Kilkenny, that the emphasis is all on hurling.
If Offaly slip down anymore they're in danger of disappearing off the radar. You can't wave a magic wand, though, and hard questions need to be asked before they are set back a generation.
Meanwhile, Kerry have been the success story all year and got a good win against Carlow. There was a feeling after last year that they could go no further but Ciaran Carey has done brilliant work and they're going to be confident.
Lastly, Galway and Wexford collide in Ballymacward at 7.0 tonight in a senior hurling challenge in the Fr Nicholas Murray tournament. I'd encourage any passers-by to drop in for what should be a great occasion.