Thursday 14 December 2017

Davy's Wexford sweeper tactic needs some fine-tuning

Wexford sweeper Shaun Murphy in action against Galway's Conor Cooney at the weekend. Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile
Wexford sweeper Shaun Murphy in action against Galway's Conor Cooney at the weekend. Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile

Jackie Cahill

When Wexford bowed out of the 2015 All-Ireland senior hurling championship, they did so having played three games.

They conceded 1-16 to Westmeath, a massive 5-25 against Kilkenny in a Leinster semi-final, and 2-22 to Cork in the qualifiers.

A combined total of 8-63 leaked in three matches - or an average of 29 points per outing.

That concession rate dropped to 20.5 points across four championship matches in 2016, an indication that Wexford had tightened up at the back.

They let in just four goals across the four games too, but Waterford did hit them for 0-21 in the All-Ireland quarter-final.

When Davy Fitzgerald was appointed as Liam Dunne's successor last year, he knew he had something tangible to work with.

And so he decided, right from the start, that Wexford would play with a sweeper, and Shaun Murphy was entrusted with that role.

In year one of a three-year project, a fair road has been travelled, but there is still a distance to go.

In their three Leinster championship outings, Wexford have conceded a combined tally of 69 points, or an average of 23 points per game.


Laois scored a goal against them, and Kilkenny three, but Wexford were hell-bent on denying Galway green flags at Croke Park on Sunday.

The problem was that the Tribesmen were able to pop 29 points over the bar, and missed other good chances.

Wexford were caught between a rock and a hard place, while they also met a team who have a specialist sweeper of their own in Aidan Harte.

It was a tale of two sweepers at GAA HQ, Harte playing between his full- and half-back lines, while Murphy essentially operated as a second full-back.

Galway didn't look like scoring a goal but Murphy didn't look comfortable either.

He was on the ball plenty of times, but didn't always take the right option.

Late in the first-half, an ill-advised pass back to his goalkeeper saw Mark Fanning blocked down, and Galway scored a point when John Hanbury was fouled.

In the second-half, the 44th minute specifically, a loose clearance from Murphy, after he took a short puck-out from Fanning, eventually led to a Galway point from a free.

With the benefit of hindsight, Murphy may have been better served operating 10-15 yards further up the field, as Galway's half-forwards profited from oceans of space.

It's a facet of Wexford's play that Fitzgerald is sure to revisit as they look ahead to an All-Ireland quarter-final on July 23.

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