Friday 2 December 2016

John Mullane: Waterford supporters are yearning for a love affair with their heroes

The spark is missing but derby duel with Wexford could be perfect challenge to light the fuse again

John Mullane

Published 23/07/2016 | 13:00

The look on Colin Dunford’s face says it all about Waterford’s display in the Munster SHC final as Tipperary players and supporters celebrate on the pitch. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile
The look on Colin Dunford’s face says it all about Waterford’s display in the Munster SHC final as Tipperary players and supporters celebrate on the pitch. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile

When we lost the Munster final against Tipperary by 21 points in 2011, Davy Fitzgerald called a training session for the following morning.

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I couldn't make it as I was due into work but over the course of that Monday and Tuesday, he rang each and every player and canvassed opinions on the game.

Before the Tipp match, Davy tried to introduce a short passing system that was totally alien to us and fell flat on its feet.

I was number 13 and I suggested to Davy that he put me out at number 11 for the quarter-final against Galway that was coming up a fortnight later.

I felt that move could go a long way towards beating Galway and to be fair to Davy, his reply was that it was a change he was thinking of himself.

The move brought a new dimension and freshness to the team, with Eoin Kelly coming into the attack.

I had a good game and the way we played totally threw Galway, who weren't expecting that level of performance from us and we beat them by ten points.

We managed to put our Tipperary disappointment behind us to rekindle our season and Derek McGrath should consider shuffling his pack for tomorrow's assignment against Wexford.

He's not going to break away from the sweeper system because, a bit like Davy now in Clare, there's an insecurity within him, a fear that his backline isn't good enough to play a more expansive game.

Flaws were exposed in the Munster final and Derek suggested after the match that, if anything, he'll go even more defensive the next day.

But a couple of positional changes and bringing a couple of players into the team would provide the spark required.

The U21 victory over Clare will have given Derek plenty of food for thought, particularly the positioning of Austin Gleeson at centre back.

I'd put him there now with the seniors. Austin has to be given a designated position and told to dominate that area.

Up front, I'd bring in Stephen Bennett and for me, Waterford's best man-marker is on the bench.

I had Conor Gleeson with the U21s last year and while there were eyebrows raised when we put him in at corner back, this fella's the real deal. He would inject pace into that Waterford defence.

When Mayo hammered Donegal in the 2013 All-Ireland quarter-final, everybody said it was a victory for Gaelic Football when Donegal's system imploded.

Did Jim McGuinness change his ways? No. He stuck to his guns and Donegal were back in another All-Ireland final a year later. Derek will be thinking along similar lines.

Chemistry

Still, Waterford supporters are yearning for a love affair with this team, but the chemistry's not quite right yet. The spark is missing but the Wexford game could be the candlelit dinner that's required.

When we lost that Munster final five years ago, we couldn't wait to get out there again.

A fortnight was an ideal break. It provided us with the cushion to refocus our minds but it was quite simple in our eyes.

Our pride was damaged, we were in a very low place and there was no other option but to go and redeem ourselves and prove the doubters wrong.

A situation like this does require big characters and leaders, and we had them, but the fact that we were 3-1 outsiders helped too. Nobody gave us a chance but looking at the betting for tomorrow, Waterford are 1/5 and Wexford 9/2.

There's an expectation that Waterford have to win this game. They're not coming in under the radar and that brings its own pressure.

But if Waterford perform, they'll win the game. It's as simple as that.

If they come with a below-par performance, Wexford are in with a cracking chance.

In 2003, Wexford beat Waterford in a qualifier, we were lucky to get over them in 2008 and they beat us two years ago.

They won't fear Waterford and will feel they have every chance of getting to a semi-final.

From Derek's viewpoint, he won't be banging the drum about redemption for the Munster final. No, he'll want to right the wrongs of Nowlan Park in 2014.

For any Waterford supporter coming out of there, it wasn't a nice journey home.

Clare and Galway is the second game on the double-bill and let's hope Davy Fitzgerald is well enough to patrol the touchline.

We might have had our arguments and disagreements in the past but personal health transcends everything else and I wish him a speedy recovery.

Davy's record against Galway in knock-out championship games is excellent, with quarter-final victories achieved in 2009, 2011 and 2013.

If he manages another one, that will be four quarter-finals victories in eight years - a fair statistic.

Given what he's been through over the last few days, this might be the time for him to sit in the stand and communicate with his touchline men from there.

They will miss him on the sideline if he's not well enough to be there, however.

In the Munster semi-final defeat to Waterford, I felt that Davy was very calm on the line and that Clare could have benefited more from his trademark fire.

He was clever after the Limerick win, attempting to defuse any bad feeling between Clare and Galway following Ger Loughnane's incendiary comments.

But I don't think Micheál Donoghue or his Galway players will have been too concerned by what Ger had to say.

They'll just want to perform and get a win under their belts. They still have so much to prove and Donoghue will want to lay down a marker that he is the right man for this job. It will be interesting to see how Clare deal with Joe Canning.

When Clare played them three years ago, he was double-marked and it could be a similar situation again. David McInerney is almost back to his best and he could be the man to keep tabs on Canning.

The championship really needs a good game and I think this could be the one to provide.

I'm backing Clare to win it with three or four points to spare but only if they nullify the threat of Canning. Oisín O'Brien will pick up Cathal Mannion and if those two are kept quiet, Clare will have too much up front for Galway.

Having failed to emerge from the qualifiers in the previous two seasons, beating Limerick was a step forward for Clare and they should kick on.

That first half spell where they hit nine points without reply was really good and if they can bring that level for the majority of the game, it should be good enough.

One concern I'd have for Clare is the fact that Podge Collins is due to play football today and hurling tomorrow.

He's managed it so far but Podge is not long back from a cruciate knee ligament injury and he's got to be very careful. In fact, he's playing with fire.

I'd hate to see anything happening to him but is playing two games in as many days feasible?

From a Clare hurling point of view, they'd like to keep him as fresh as possible and from my experience of playing club football, admittedly at a low level, I do find that the big ball code takes a lot more out of the body than hurling.

It would be easier for Podge if it was hurling first and then football because there's a lot more running involved in football. He'll be feeling really fatigued in the morning if he's involved against Roscommon today.

Irish Independent

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