Saturday 18 January 2020

Brendan Cummins: A final flourish can sweep away old misgivings

Cahalane's red card a turning point - but derided Déise system was qualified success

Waterford selector Dan Shanahan (left) and Cork counterpart Diarmuid O’Sullivan on the pitch during yesterday’s first half. Photo: Sportsfile
Waterford selector Dan Shanahan (left) and Cork counterpart Diarmuid O’Sullivan on the pitch during yesterday’s first half. Photo: Sportsfile

Brendan Cummins

To sweep or not to sweep? That is the question.

I wondered if it was possible for a team with a sweeper system to win the All-Ireland title.

We'll know in three weeks' time but we found out yesterday that it can certainly nullify an opponent's big strength.

Waterford frustrated Cork's major weapon, Anthony Nash's puck-outs, and that spelled trouble for the Rebels.

The first warning signs were there when Nash was sending puck-outs over the sideline and I noticed the camera panning to him at one point, frustration etched all over his face.

As a goalkeeper, the last thing you want to do is second guess yourself with ball in hand.

Having willing runners venturing down cul-de-sacs only magnifies the problem.

But Waterford are playing the system that comes natural to them, and suits them best.

GAA Newsletter

Expert GAA analysis straight to your inbox.

It's in marked contrast to their performance against Cork in June, when a different style did not work.

At the time I wrote they looked almost embarrassed to play with a sweeper - and how Derek McGrath cut a lonely figure on the sideline.

He moved quickly to change that, adding Eoin Murphy and Fergal Hartley to his backroom team. Both are strong sounding boards for McGrath.

What's more, they've instilled in him a renewed belief that his thinking on the game is correct, and to hell with the begrudgers.

And Derek's angry again. We saw how he and Dan Shanahan went at it in a touchline war with their Cork counterparts, vigorously contesting the big decisions and taking them as personal insults when they didn't go their way. That's how an inter-county manager should be.

A big question, however, is this: did the sweeper system win the game or was the sending-off the big turning point?

It's a bit of both, for me. After Damien Cahalane was dismissed, Cork set up man for man defensively.

This left Waterford with seven defenders against five Cork forwards, but Cork kept five backs against five Waterford attackers.

This was the ideal situation for Waterford's subs to make an impact, Maurice Shanahan and Brian O'Halloran in particular.

Cork also contributed to their own downfall by keeping Colm Spillane on Shanahan, who had a clear height advantage.

Waterford were now in a position where they could play the game on their terms.

What Cork should have done was bring back another man into defence, and play with four forwards.

That was a logical move to ensure they stayed in the game until the very end but instead, they were outscored by 0-5 to 3-8 after the Cahalane red card.

The carnage that ensued in the Cork defence was reminiscent of the 2013 All-Ireland final replay against Clare.

Waterford's Jamie Barron had the licence to roam, with management's blessing, and he hurled off sheer instinct.

Coming from the blind side of a defence going man for man, Barron wreaked havoc with two goals.

We saw in the Galway-Tipp semi-final seven days before how special players can tip the scales - Joe Canning's display in the final ten minutes a case in point.

Austin Gleeson showed similar qualities in putting Cork to the sword. His talent is unquestionable but what impressed me most was his work-rate during the game.

Even when he wasn't nailing those flashy scores, he was hooking and blocking Cork defenders, and helping to stem the flow of ball to the opposition's attack.

Waterford's defenders will get the plaudits for keeping Cork at bay but they can thank men like Gleeson further up the field.

In the heat of battle, men are needed. Step forward Kevin Moran and Michael 'Brick' Walsh, the 'assist king'.

'Brick' has scored big goals against Kilkenny and Cork in the championship this year and if you're going to achieve something special, like winning an All-Ireland title, you need players to do something they wouldn't have been renowned for before.

What 'Brick' does is an example to any hurler - go for as long as you can and then get out of there. That's his role in this team - and he fulfils it perfectly.

Unfortunately, when Derek wakes up this morning and looks at the video of the game, he'll concern himself with a couple of major incidents.

He'll be disappointed in Conor Gleeson's careless use of the hurl on Patrick Horgan in the 69th minute, which put the linesman and referee in a position where they needed to make a big decision.

He'll also need to wait on what's coming for Austin Gleeson. The helmet tug on Luke Meade was on the low end of the scale but it's a really untimely episode in the current environment.

I, like every hurling person out there, would love to see Austin Gleeson play in the final.

I remember Tipperary's Brian O'Meara in the weeks leading up to the 2001 All-Ireland final, when he was suspended.

It was heartbreaking to see a man coming to training with a tracksuit, but no hurley.

That's Conor Gleeson's fate now and I hope that Austin won't find himself in the same boat.

The chink of light for Waterford is that Galway's Adrian Tuohy escaped sanction for a similar incident, which sets a positive precedent in Gleeson's case.

Waterford will need their big guns firing to take on Galway, whose physicality and defensive structure still leaves them in the best position to win the title.

But Waterford have something building now - and they have a maturity and belief on the back of yesterday's win.

Their system works but Galway, bar the Tipp game, have faced sweepers all summer and in Aidan Harte, they have a player as good as Tadhg de Búrca to fill the role.

It promises to be an intriguing and novel final - and a fitting way to cap an amazing summer of hurling.

Irish Independent

The Throw In: From 1955 heartbreak to 2019's five in-a-row - Inside the Decades of the Dubs

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport