Friday 9 December 2016

'Sweepers have not just come in off planet Mars'

Cody's trusted lieutenant Dempsey believes hurling can never copy football’s defensive outlook

Published 07/08/2015 | 02:30

Kilkenny boss Brian Cody and Mick Dempsey on the pitch after last year's drawn All-Ireland final with Tipperary
Kilkenny boss Brian Cody and Mick Dempsey on the pitch after last year's drawn All-Ireland final with Tipperary
Brian Cody and Michael Dempsey celebrating the replay win

For all the comings and goings, the Laois football man in the Kilkenny hurling set-up has remained a constant.

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On varying occasions the backroom team has been shaken up and the playing staff has seen a considerable overhaul.

This past winter, a staggering 48 All-Ireland medals walked out of the Kilkenny dressing room for the last time, with some of their holders among the greatest to play the game.

Time moves on and everything changes. Well, almost everything. Brian Cody remains at the apex of what has become a relentless machine. And for much of the journey, he has kept Mick Dempsey on board.

The Laois man had proved himself at club level and with the county's U-21 side before being drafted up to Cody's inner circle in 2005.

From 2006 to 2012, they reached a final every single year. And they responded to their 2013 blip by recovering to win last year's All-Ireland.

For Dempsey, that thread of continuity that has run through Kilkenny set-ups since Cody first came in has proved vital.

"I think it's hugely important if you have a good management team, obviously you want to keep them," Dempsey reflected.

"Obviously your knowledge of the players is hugely important, it's not all about hard data from a sports science point of view but it's about understanding the mindset and where your players are coming from so it's more of a holistic approach.

"So I think continuity is huge from that point of view because your own instinct is hugely important too. Sometimes when you get a new manager coming in you may get a bounce from that manager.

Continuity

"But I think once players are happy and the people are doing their jobs properly then continuity is hugely important in terms of the consistencies and values you are looking for in your training.

"Obviously it's a results-driven business. Sometimes people should get more continuity but maybe they don't because you have what you have and you are trying to develop players but continuity is definitely an important factor."

His sports science background means he has developed a deep understanding of the individual needs of the Kilkenny squad.

Mick Fennelly's battles with back trouble are well documented but his training programme is tailored to what his body can tolerate. Richie Power is struggling too to get back fit.

Perhaps it's no surprise after so many years on the road that some of Kilkenny's thoroughbreds are struggling.

"Practically most of (Fennelly's) training is individualised at this stage and I suppose that's the same with all players.

"Anybody with a history of injuries or a current injury, new players coming on, old players, more senior players, it's trying to see the individual and managing the individual is key to having him healthy and ready for the real games that matter."

Waterford will throw up a different sort of challenge. Their set-up has gobbled up plenty of column inches but Dempsey doesn't see anything too revolutionary in what they do.

Instead, he points out that while they are willing to defend, their scoring rate holds up at the other end.

Former Tipperary hero Nicky English pointed out this week that Waterford's style was just a more exaggerated version of what other teams are already doing.

And Dempsey doesn't think Waterford have started a trend that will consume many teams in the way many sides have followed a template set out by the Donegal footballers.

In fact, he believes people are too ready to make comparisons between football and hurling that simply don't hold up to scrutiny.

"It couldn't work (a blanket defence) because you have players who can put the ball over the bar from 50 yards. I would love if a team decided to do that! It would be great! I've a Gaelic Football background but sometimes I even say what a load of baloney comparing Gaelic football and hurling.

"They're two entirely different games. They're played on the same pitch with the same number of players, same number of officials but that's where the similarities end.

"There were sweepers played way back. I read something recently where Waterford IT had a certain style maybe 20 years ago and where Cyril Farrell had tactical elements… I don't really think there's anything major about it.

"Waterford are very enthusiastic to get back, they want to get on the ball but to score 2-21 last weekend."

"Obviously teams are focusing a little bit more on defending but because of the nature of hurling, the skill and speed of the ball - I don't think it can ever actually become like football.

"The two games are inherently different. If you take maybe Waterford, people say maybe played defensively in the game (against Dublin) but they still scored 2-21 and created great chances with loads of space.

"At times Dublin had loads of space also. That's the nature of hurling, it's very spontaneous and instinctive and the best players are really good in crowded situations. I don't think it's going to affect the skill or in the long term the number of goals we see in matches.

"I don't see any major change in hurling, I don't think sweepers have come off the planet Mars in the last few months. Teams have been playing sweepers for a long time."

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