Monday 19 August 2019

Brendan Cummins: 'Davy's winning recipe smells like team spirit with players who totally trust their leader'


Lee Chin is congratulated by Wexford manager Davy Fitzgerald following the Leinster GAA Hurling Senior Championship Final match between Kilkenny and Wexford at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Lee Chin is congratulated by Wexford manager Davy Fitzgerald following the Leinster GAA Hurling Senior Championship Final match between Kilkenny and Wexford at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Brendan Cummins

If we ever needed proof that hurling is a 15-man game, we got it in Croke Park yesterday.

To me, it never made sense that Kilkenny were favourites, not when the sum of Wexford's parts was always so much greater.

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There are various reasons why Wexford turned them over, but the most obvious is that their play was all about the collective; Kilkenny's was all about the individuals.

To rely on one player to get half your scores, as Kilkenny have been doing with TJ Reid, is unsustainable. You could see it in their play: hitting it inside and hoping Colin Fennelly would get on it, hoping Walter Walsh might conjure up something.

It was in contrast to Wexford, who went up the field in waves, having that belief they were going to get across the line - this time at least. So often in the past, we've analysed their games and it's been the usual, wasteful Wexford, but this time they were clinical. With the way they play the sweeper, the whole idea is to stay in the game for the first hour and then try to win it, to turn the game into a 10-minute dash.

But before, when they'd be a few points down at that stage, they'd make really bad decisions and suddenly find themselves six down. The difference here was they had a free-taker, Lee Chin, who potted every one of his chances. That kept their momentum.

When playing with a sweeper you have to run the ball through the middle and when they did that, Kilkenny started fouling. You could see Wexford's belief growing with each free that went over, and they made good decisions all through.

They used the ball really well, bunching on puck-outs. When they didn't play the puck-outs to the wing, they went down the middle where they had five-on-six and they kept numbers in there. Up front, Conor McDonald was outstanding in the air, and those were the pieces of the jigsaw Wexford didn't have in previous matches.

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In Salthill earlier this year, lots of their fans were complaining about how Wexford were playing, but those doubts never reached the players, who would die for Davy.

Davy's system is one thing, but the key to its success is players who will commit to make it work. If you lose the dressing room and the players decide they're not going to work for you, you're finished, but there's never been a hint of that. The passion they put into it and the respect they have for Davy is the reason they got across the line… at long last.

They'll enjoy this, and so they should, but when they're finished dancing at the crossroads Davy will have their feet back down to earth. In the next few weeks the narrative will be that Tipp were better off losing the Munster final because they have to play Dublin and Wexford now to reach an All-Ireland final. That will be music to Davy's ears.

As for Kilkenny, they contributed to their own downfall, going for goal with four or five minutes left when the Kilkenny of old would tag point after point to make you nervous. The way Wexford defended at the finish, it was going to be impossible to get a goal, and Cody's men will have to beat Cork and Limerick now to get to a final - something that's just not going to happen.

It's not a crisis, by any means. Kilkenny have just normalised, returned to what the rest of us had to live with for the last 40 years. They reached an astonishing level under Cody, but it was always going to be unsustainable - whether we like it or not, people get old, and they've gone back into the pack.

Limerick, meanwhile, look like they're trying to break away, lifting their third trophy in the past 10 months. The first thing they did to take Tipp apart yesterday was to dismantle their puck-out. Tipp had 31 long puck-outs, and they only won six - that's the story of the game right there.

Going long was always going to be Tipp's Achilles' heel, but when they went short they didn't appear to have a process to move the ball up the pitch: their backs were too narrow, often 30 yards in-field when they took the ball when they should have been out near the sideline. That never gave them any width to attack. They killed their own space and when you do that you can't work the ball up the pitch.

Cathal Barrett's absence made a huge difference. If you give him a short puck-out he'll break the tackle and be in 40 or 50 yards of space, able to play, but yesterday their backs couldn't break the tackle and as a result couldn't create the overlap - they had to go long. But because Limerick sat someone back, not dissimilar to what Tipperary did to them in Thurles, John McGrath and Jake Morris were almost redundant.

The loss of Brendan Maher in the half-back line was huge because normally Tipp have three in the half-back line who can strike the ball 80-90 yards with accuracy. They only had two yesterday and that doesn't work at that stage because Limerick are too good - they shut you down. Declan Hannon and Diarmaid Byrnes were running the show for the All-Ireland champions.

Panic The issue for Tipp now is that Dublin and Wexford will set up in the same way. I still believe they have no need to panic, but Liam Sheedy will have to put extra work into what happens when his full-back line gets the ball. The depth is also an issue: when Liam looked over his shoulder yesterday, there was nobody in the subs he could go to to change the game.

That's not his fault. He's done a great job to get them this far but he had to use the same bodies all the time, and eventually that catches up. Limerick, meanwhile, seem to be timing their run to perfection.

Granted, they had four players back off a rest and were playing in their own back yard, but they have so much depth that even when a star like Aaron Gillane wasn't shooting the lights out, they had others who could step up.

No team is unbeatable, but they're going to take serious stopping.

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