Thursday 18 October 2018

Davy Fitzgerald's six-point plan to repel attack from All Ireland champions Galway

 

Davy Fitzgerald celebrates after the final whistle in Innovate Wexford Park
Davy Fitzgerald celebrates after the final whistle in Innovate Wexford Park
Davy Fitzgerald

Cyril Farrell

Ever since the sequence of games was announced for the Leinster championship, Davy Fitzgerald would have red-lettered Saturday, June 2, the day Galway were coming to Wexford Park.

He would have expected Wexford to beat Dublin and Offaly, turning the clash with Galway into a real gateway to the Leinster final. Winning it would certainly leave them in a great position, as opposed to heading to Nowlan Park next Saturday off a defeat.

As All-Ireland champions, Galway remain the benchmark by which others judge themselves, a status they enhanced last Sunday, so you can take it that Fitzy (pictured) will have tested the world's reserves of midnight oil working on plans and ploys for today.

So what are we likely to get? How will he set Wexford up and how will he try to counteract Galway's strong points. And will they work?

1. WEXFORD'S 1-7-4-3 SHAPE

Irrespective of who a team is playing, they have to operate off the basic philosophy they are used to. Yes, you can tweak it but you can't say: 'right we're playing X (especially when X are All-Ireland champions) so let's try something completely different'. Well you can, but it's very risky.

Wexford won't do that this evening. They work essentially off seven backs, with Shaun Murphy the free man.

They frequently play four in what might loosely be termed the midfield/half-forward area, with three higher up.

Obviously there's a lot of fluidity in where various players are at any given time but, in broad terms, it's a 1-7-4-3 formation, with the non-negotiable being a packed middle third and an extra man in defence.

2. THE GALWAY CHALLENGE

Six defenders will be allocated close man-marking duties, with Murphy the free man.

It remains to be seen who is handed the task of tracking Joe Canning but, whoever it is, that will be his sole responsibility.

So when Canning drifts out, as he did very effectively last Sunday, his man-marker will follow as if tied to him.

The same goes for any other wandering Galway forward. With Murphy staying back, Wexford will still have six defenders and they will get cover from others as they retreat quickly.

Kilkenny work off a more traditional set-up, so when Canning roamed last Sunday, Cillian Buckley held the centre-back area. Others were expected to pick up Canning.

No zonal marking for Wexford: it's man for man with back-up in close support.

Obviously, the opposition will have extra defenders quite often so much depends on how they use it.

3. WEXFORD'S ATTACKING SYSTEM

Defensive security is vital but there has to be an attacking plan as well. Wexford work off moving the ball forward in waves, often with short, snappy passing.

Wing-backs Paudie Foley and Diarmuid O'Keeffe play a big part in that movement and even full-back Liam Ryan has licence to drive upfield too. When they go forward, others drop back so that there are no obvious gaps if the move breaks down.

Foley and O'Keeffe did very well against Galway in the League quarter-final so Micheál Donoghue will have primed his half-forwards to be a lot more aggressive in their marking than they were two months ago.

David Burke and Johnny Coen will also be on call around midfield to intercept Foley and O'Keeffe, or anyone else when they go forward.

4. AIR AND GROUND WARS

Jack O'Connor made a lot of spectacular catches - especially in the first half - against Galway in the League quarter-final so Wexford will try that again to see if Galway have corrected that glitch.

However, they won't go down the centre, where Gearóid McInerney's big paw is the ultimate anti-missile device, so that's ground war territory for Wexford.

Padraig Mannion tidied up a lot in that area against Kilkenny last Sunday.

5. UNDERMANNED ATTACK

Galway's spare man in defence will present Wexford with a challenge when they lose possession.

Now you have an unmarked man, who has time to look up and pick his target.

Of course, Wexford will have an extra man in defence and plenty others just ahead of that, so it won't be easy for Galway to hit the right target. That's where it comes down to how well players are performing individually.

A team can have all the plans and strategies they like, but if individuals aren't on their game, they come to nothing. If Galway's deliveries are accurate, it creates a problem for Wexford - extra defender or not - if they're loose, it's a different story.

6. LAST YEAR'S LESSONS

In last year's Leinster final, Galway beat Wexford's defensive system by shooting accurately from long distance, ending up with 29 points. It was a ploy that worked well in all their games and will figure prominently again in their two-in-a-row bid.

Wexford will work towards countering that by limiting space, even beyond midfield. They tried it last year but couldn't quite get it right.

But then they were in a much earlier stage of their development so they will be better at it now. The rest of their game is also more refined, but then Galway are better too.

Verdict

Galway primed everything for the summer. They looked very good last Sunday and can pass this examination too.

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