Tuesday 21 February 2017

Jamesie O'Connor: Deise won't need a systems reboot to find route past resurgent Model

Jamesie O'Connor

Published 17/07/2016 | 17:00

'Breen has been the perfect foil for Brendan Maher in the middle of the field, and the fact that his athleticism and willingness to make those long runs forward in behind the opposition defence have been rewarded - three goals in the last two matches - is all the encouragement he needs to keep making them.' Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
'Breen has been the perfect foil for Brendan Maher in the middle of the field, and the fact that his athleticism and willingness to make those long runs forward in behind the opposition defence have been rewarded - three goals in the last two matches - is all the encouragement he needs to keep making them.' Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Wrong. There was just something wrong with last Sunday's Munster final in the Gaelic Grounds in Limerick. It wasn't the Munster Council's, Limerick GAA's or anyone's fault for that matter. Páirc Uí Chaoimh is out of commission and understandably the Waterford management were loath to concede home advantage and head to Thurles for the second year in a row.

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It had to be Limerick. But to have a crowd of less than 30,000, and see vacant seats, and swathes of empty terracing, was a major disappointment.

It certainly detracted from the day and it never felt like the occasion, the blue riband event in the Munster hurling calendar, that it should be. Of course the absolutely abysmal weather didn't help. Whatever sense of atmosphere and enthusiasm that might have existed was swamped under the deluge and subsequent gloom that descended and seemed to hover over the ground for the entire day.

Read more: Tipp torrents wash Deise hopes away

Not that the Tipp supporters minded. With the minors winning every bit as emphatically as their seniors, it was a seriously good day at the office. More importantly, there was further evidence that this team is getting better. Newcomers Seamus Kennedy, Michael Breen and Dan McCormack are visibly growing in confidence, and getting ever more comfortable on the inter-county stage. Breen has been the perfect foil for Brendan Maher in the middle of the field, and the fact that his athleticism and willingness to make those long runs forward in behind the opposition defence have been rewarded - three goals in the last two matches - is all the encouragement he needs to keep making them.

Meanwhile, the genie is finally out of the bottle in relation to John McGrath. Tipp have unearthed another potent weapon that opposition defences are now going to have to plan for, and what a fillip it is to have him back and fully fit. But as impressive as the 5-19 total the forwards posted, every bit as notable was the meagre 0-13 tally they conceded at the other end. While the guys wearing numbers one to seven deservedly take most of the plaudits, the roots of Tipp's meanness at the back can be traced further up the field.

I lost count of the number of turnovers forced by the Tipp forwards in the opposition half. They tackled and harried in numbers, and Tadhg De Burca in particular was under pressure every time he got his hands on the ball. Michael Ryan has definitely placed a premium on bringing that increased work ethic, intensity and physicality into their play, and there is a noticeably harder edge to Tipp this year. No one worked harder up front than Bonner Maher. He looked stronger and fitter than any time in the last three years, and finally seems to have regained the sustained an energy that, for whatever reason, he hadn't been playing with. With 'Bubbles' O'Dwyer to come back for the semi-final, Clare or Galway will have to show considerable improvement to take Tipp down.

That assumes of course that Waterford will dispose of their neighbours next weekend. While much of the post-match analysis of last Saturday's proceedings focused on carrying out yet another post mortem on the state of Cork hurling, for me were the real story from Thurles was Wexford.

Read more: Wexford shatter Rebels' risible resolve as Dunne hails charges

Considering they hadn't beaten the Rebels in the championship in 60 years, had a miserable league and shipped a 13-point beating in their Leinster championship opener with Dublin, I'm not sure that outside their own borders, the Wexford players got the credit that their performance deserved. I certainly couldn't see it coming. I was in the Gaelic Grounds in February when they were hammered by Limerick on the opening night of the league, and looked to be going nowhere. The loss to Dublin some weeks back was as poor and dispirited a performance as I have seen any Wexford side give, and both players and management looked like they couldn't wait for the season to be over. Having seen Cork overcome Dublin the previous week, and suffered through the DVD of the Wexford-Offaly match, I couldn't see how that gap was going to be closed.

But from the start last weekend, there was an honesty about Wexford's efforts that left you rooting for them. Three clear at the break after a great second quarter, respectability had been attained, and the players could have easily settled for another noble defeat. To their credit, those sentiments were never entertained, even when Cork looked to have struck the decisive blow when Daniel Kearney's 62nd-minute goal put them one ahead. That was when real courage and leadership was needed and Lee Chin and Liam óg McGovern provided it. Fair play to them.

With the wind in their sails, Wexford will have no fear whatsoever of facing Waterford, but there's sure to be a backlash coming from the Deise. My own county's under 21s walked into it on Wednesday night when Patrick Curran, Austin Gleeson, Tom Devine and the Bennetts washed some of the toxins out of their system by blowing Clare away with a devastating second-half performance.

That the quarter-finals come so quickly is a blessing for Derek McGrath and his players. 'Project Waterford' took a major hit last Sunday, but they've got to park that performance and the game next weekend expedites that process. Obviously, there was a major systems failure, especially in defence, but the reality was that no system would have saved them given how poorly they defended and the mistakes they made at the back. They were jittery from the off, and the first Tipp goal came from a routine high ball that should have been meat and drink to their full-back line. That turned out to be Tipp's modus operandi all day - high balls into the full-back line - and all of their goals in the second half were a product of it.

Read more: Waterford boss Derek McGrath facing biggest test of his career so far

While the Deise's defensive issues can be ironed out, the aimlessness evident in attack is more perplexing. Missed frees, poor shooting and decision making and below-par performances from many of their bigger players all contributed to a toothless attacking display. What's troubling is that once it became evident they were in a hole, they looked bereft of ideas as to how they were ever going to get out of it. All of that will have hurt McGrath, and I would put the house on them recovering to beat Wexford. But after that, it's a long shot to see them still there in September.

Finally, Clare's performance in the second game on Saturday evening was sufficient to beat Limerick, but no more than that. It's not a bad place to be, winning while playing poorly for long spells. But it looks like they're going to have to take care of Galway, Tipp and Kilkenny to win the All-Ireland from here. That's a tall order, especially after the rocket my former manager has lit under Galway, which adds further juice to that fixture next week.

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