Tuesday 23 July 2019

Brendan Cummins: 'Clare and Waterford in dire straits, but how they adapt will define their fate'


Conor Prunty of Waterford shakes hands with William O'Donoghue of Limerick
Conor Prunty of Waterford shakes hands with William O'Donoghue of Limerick
Fanning: Manager needs clear vision. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Brendan Cummins

Different problems, the same results, and by now we have all the proof we needed that both Waterford and Clare have serious underlying issues.

The question today is whether those problems can be solved on this current path, which, to me, looks like a dead end.

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The issue for Waterford is twofold: on the pitch they're devoid of ideas and inspiration, while off it it's become a self-fulfilling prophecy for players that Páraic Fanning's plan won't work.

They were used to a certain style and he tried to change it, but to do that you need a clear vision of what the new world will look like. The waters got muddied and when that happens players don't invest the energy needed to make your plan work.

Since the league final there's a toxic atmosphere around their set-up: there are all sorts of rumours about meetings after matches, discontent in training. The net result is players have downed tools in their last two matches and you can't see anything else but another long day against Cork.

The sure sign of frustration was the lack of discipline yesterday, erupting into the strikes by Pauric Mahony and Maurice Shanahan.

If they stick with Fanning he'll have to do serious corrective surgery, coupled with a clear strategy - they have the players, but 2020 is a long way off.

I saw it with Tipperary in 2003. Michael Doyle came in after Nicky English but he was gone that September. Why? It's a lot easier to replace a manager than 30 players.

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We had a meeting and the question was asked: Are we going to be a better team at the end of next year if Michael is in charge? The cold decision was no.

I have sympathy for Fanning in his first managerial role, but the vision hasn't been clear and players look confused about their roles.

That was Tipp last year, but you have to credit Liam Sheedy for their transformation; the players were always there but they've been woken from their slumber.

The contrast between Tipp and Clare was laid bare yesterday. The Banner butterflies weren't flying in formation in Cusack Park and, to me, Clare have been coached to death. They're trying to play the perfect game of hurling, which doesn't exist.

I wrote a few weeks ago that the reason I didn't think they'd get out of Munster is they turn the ball over too much. I thought they'd learn from the league but they haven't. They're still more vulnerable with the ball and coming out the field than when the opposition start from their goals.

Look at yesterday: they concede a goal, then go short to the wing-back on a puck-out, who had his back to the opposition goal. It's high-risk stuff giving the ball to a player who's static with both shoulders facing you, because when he gets it he hasn't a clue what's behind him as he turns to go out the pitch.

When you meet Tipperary and they push up and go nose-to-nose, there's no room to breathe. Short puck-outs to defenders with feet planted facing their own goals is a recipe for disaster. No lessons were learned from last year's semi-final against Galway when this strategy was picked apart in the opening 15 minutes.

Yesterday, when Clare did have the ball they tried to run it through the lines using handpasses, but Tipp, in contrast, hit crisp balls to hand.

I'm sure Clare will have one of their famous video sessions this week; they'll dissect it and then dissect it again, but the reality is you need to give players freedom. If they aren't given the freedom to work out things by themselves they get paralysed, and that's three teams already that Tipp's style has paralysed.

For Tipp, there's no grand puck-out strategy. Sheedy will give players a sense of what they're trying to achieve and allow them to go out and do it. The hooking and blocking is their bedrock, from numbers 10 to 15, and there's no way Liam will take his foot off the gas before the Limerick game. He doesn't know how.

Clare's Championship, meanwhile, hangs by a thread. To turn things around I'd like to see them play three players inside, and all should be within 40 yards of the opposition goal at all times. Two in the penalty box and one on the edge of the D: John Conlon, Shane O'Donnell and Aron Shanagher.

That's how Cork beat Limerick: everyone else gets back out the field and works like dogs to get the ball into those three. You still have 12 behind the ball which satisfies the defensive mentality, but you have a threat and when the ball goes in, it goes in deep.

I'd fear for Clare now. They may have a lifeline, unlike Waterford, but with their current approach it's hard to see them avoiding a similar fate.

Irish Independent

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