Thursday 22 February 2018

Centre-forward role can unlock Gleeson's genius, says Regan

Austin Gleeson was substituted during Waterford’s defeat to Cork despite a couple of sublime moments. Photo: Sportsfile
Austin Gleeson was substituted during Waterford’s defeat to Cork despite a couple of sublime moments. Photo: Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

Waterford should thump Offaly this afternoon but like the lone fallen tree in the hidden forest will anyone hear or see it, let alone pay attention?

Four years ago, when these sides met at the same venue when Michael Ryan was in charge, Waterford's four point winning margin embarrassed the handicapper; today, they are a 1/50 shot compared to the normal 1/100 available back then.

Offaly will play a double sweeper; God help them and us.

After succumbing listlessly to Cork after an 11-week lay-off when it seemed they over-analysed their own game to within an inch of its once potentially vivid life, Derek McGrath's men have slipped into the pack.

The whole point of McGrath's reign, as it had been for Ryan, and a variety of predecessors who sought to build on late 1990s emergence, was to move them closer to their personal Everest.

Scaling today's hillock will not necessarily do that. Not while they remain prisoners of pragmatism.

"Today may offer Derek and his side an opportunity to be more expansive," offers Birr native Daithi Regan, who may be forced to watch much of today's action from behind a blanket, presuming the Déise cast their's aside.

"Derek has done a brilliant job because when he came in, the feeling was that they might slip off for 10 years because they lost key players. But he made them very competitive very quickly.

"The problem now is he in his third year and he hasn't yet thrown the shackles off. They have been closer than anyone to winning an All-Ireland. It comes back to the system.

"It's not football, you can't play with four forwards up front and win a game of hurling. The days of the sweeper can be forgotten about if you want to win an All-Ireland. Clare were exceptions because Cork acquiesced."

In Thurles, Austin Gleeson personified Waterford's fug of confusion; seemingly roaming the field with gay abandon, the most familiar sight was of him being submerged by red bodies as wide after wide sailed by before.

His is a sublime talent but even genius wrists cannot flex within handcuffs.

"They haven't a hope of winning an All-Ireland if they persist in their approach up front, you're relying on long-range shots.

"Austin Gleeson had a free role but Cork had the numerical advantage so he was running up cul de sacs. If you really want him to have a free role, you name him at corner-forward and get the two other inside forwards to sit on the D.

"Bring your half-forward 50 metres out and then you have the space. There's no point in having a free role if you have no space and are submerged by spare defenders all over the place.

"Maybe centre-forward? Centre-back is the lock and centre-forward is the key. Get him turning and then straight for goal. A team has a problem then.

"Don't build a game around him either, Waterford have enough other hurlers. But you need to get the best out of him. Sometimes the best way is to win your position. And I think they are good enough to do it."

Irish Independent

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