Sunday 18 August 2019

Brendan Cummins: 'Sheedy will need more from his bench to beat Wexford 'fitness test''


Noel McGrath is the Tom Brady of Tipperary, when he gets the ball every forward starts moving. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Noel McGrath is the Tom Brady of Tipperary, when he gets the ball every forward starts moving. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

Brendan Cummins

The worst feeling in hurling isn't losing; it's losing when you know you didn't express yourself.

To avoid that on Sunday, Tipperary need to forget worrying about consequences and go back to hurling on instinct: rekindle their early Munster championship form and if you fail, at least you failed while daring greatly.

It's simple: a repeat of their last two performances will not be enough to beat Wexford. To me it's a 50-50 game, and Davy Fitz will do everything to foster a siege mentality this week. The last thing he'll say as they run out is that the whole country thinks your last win was a one-off: are you going to prove you're a generation that won't fall at the last hurdle?

The key question: can Conor McDonald, Paul Morris and Lee Chin deliver the same display? McDonald went up to catch so many balls that he became a swashbuckling presence in the Leinster final and they'll need him to win more one-on-two battles to provide a springboard to play. Tipp could find themselves in deep water: they have the temperament but the problem could be their system.

Why? Wexford will sit back and crowd their own 45 to 65, telling Tipperary to play through them. In their last two games all Tipp have done is try to play over and around teams.

James Barry has repeatedly been allowed to receive Tipp puck-outs at corner back and if you're in the full-back line getting every puck-out, the truth is the opposition think you're unable to use it. They've singled you out as a weak link and by doing that, they dictate where Tipp can play.

To counter-act that you must try to rotate the receiver: Ronan Maher in the full-back line for some puck-outs would give that flexibility. The spare man needs to move around positions two, three and four to receive it at different angles and I'd be bold at times by telling your spare man to go up the pitch. That still leaves five on five at the back, but remember it's your puck-out, and the spare man can then provide an attacking threat. That kind of bravery could unlock Wexford.

For Tipp 80-, 90-yard balls from their own 45 just won't cut it because unless Ronan Maher is hitting it, they won't have the depth of delivery required. The key will be to work the ball to the 65s and then send it in deep. That way, no matter how many sweepers are there it's two on two and if Seamie Callanan or John McGrath can get clean primary possession, Wexford will be in bother.

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Tipp get into full flow when their half-back line can find Noel McGrath with possession. He's the Tom Brady of Tipperary: when he gets the ball every forward starts moving, they become electrified because they know if they put out their hand he'll put it on a postage stamp.

But the issue for Tipp is that Wexford's style will make this a fitness test and they'll need to put in five subs to win. When Liam Sheedy has brought lads on they haven't energised the team and he'll need a Mark Kehoe or Jake Morris to produce something special. If they find it, Tipp could be back in the final.

And what of the other semi-final? To me, it's Limerick's to lose.

Brian Cody has already swung some sorcery by resurrecting careers from the ashes, and that's down to his honesty with players - knowing what to do to keep them hungry. But the key question when you play Limerick: can you match the work rate of their half-forward line with your half-forward line? I'm not so sure Richie Hogan and others will pass that test.


Kilkenny's best bet is to crowd their half of the pitch between the 45 and 65, though that's not how Cody plays. I think he'll follow Limerick all over the pitch but try to keep a structure with three half-backs on his own 65.

That's the key against Limerick: your half-forwards, midfielders and full-forwards all need to come back somewhat because if your half-back line gets moved around the way Tipp's did, Limerick are straight in at your full-back line and it's over.

It happened Kilkenny in the first 10 minutes against Cork: their half-back line got dragged out, Cillian Buckley was too far up the pitch trying to get involved and that leaves grass in behind and guess what? The full-forward line goes to town.

It's no great criticism of Kilkenny's full-back line, but inside forwards are so good now that if they get you one-on-one, they take you to the cleaners. Limerick will try to draw Kilkenny out with short passing and they'll run at Kilkenny, trying to get overlaps on five, six and seven if the Kilkenny half-forward line doesn't track back.

Paul Murphy and the others will pray their half-back line can stay 40-50 yards up the pitch because if that stretches out to 60-70 yards, it doesn't matter what Kilkenny do: the game is up.

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