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Galway frustrated by McGrath master plan

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Galway's Andy Smith tries to squeeze through the gap between Waterford's Kevin Moran, left, and Pauric Mahony at Walsh Park

Galway's Andy Smith tries to squeeze through the gap between Waterford's Kevin Moran, left, and Pauric Mahony at Walsh Park

SPORTSFILE

Waterford's Brian O'Halloran clashes with Johnny Coen of Galway during the game

Waterford's Brian O'Halloran clashes with Johnny Coen of Galway during the game

SPORTSFILE

Waterford's Pauric Mahony in action during his side's Allianz Hurling League Division 1 quarter-final at Walsh Park

Waterford's Pauric Mahony in action during his side's Allianz Hurling League Division 1 quarter-final at Walsh Park

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Galway's Andy Smith tries to squeeze through the gap between Waterford's Kevin Moran, left, and Pauric Mahony at Walsh Park

A large knot of Waterford supporters felt compelled to make their way out on to Walsh Park afterwards and over to the corner to where their team were warming down.

There was intimate approval to register for what they had just been treated to and the giddy excitement at what has happened over the last two weekends was palpable. For the second week in a row they had strangled decent opposition into submission.

Their manager Derek McGrath sought to play down the method behind it and expressed "disgust" against the notion they were replicating the prevailing and predominant style in Gaelic football. Comparisons with Donegal or anyone else of that ilk were not welcome.

But whatever tools they are taking to the job, it is working. Their recovery from a difficult 2014 has been impressively constructed, the fundamental tactic of big defensive numbers being rigorously applied.

This was their fourth clean sheet of the league campaign and despite failing to score goals against the better opponents they have met - Limerick, Wexford and now Galway - the faith they have in their system is admirable.

Even with the breeze in the first half they were prepared to be patient and keep men behind the ball. There were so many times when they didn't have any player beyond Galway's 45 metre line.

Galway represented a step up, in league terms, from Wexford but if anything, Waterford's performance was even better seven days on, particularly in the last 25 minutes when they faced into a strong breeze with just a four-point lead to protect having led by nine (0-14 to 0-5) at the break. It was only then that this new-look team showed its real credentials.

They shut out Galway completely for 21 minutes which, given the strength of the breeze, was a remarkable achievement for both teams.

How could a team with so many quality ball strikers as Galway not register a single score in that period?

The collective impact of Waterford's defensive system has to be acknowledged but so too does the individual ability of so many. Time and time again young men like Tadhg De Burca, such a revelation throughout the campaign, Barry Coughlan, Austin Gleeson and Philip Mahony had the instinct to step off their line and make the crucial interception or clearance. In front of them Jamie Barron brought great dynamism to his play once again, in tandem with Kevin Moran who put his body on the line so often, one second-half block on Aidan Harte near the sideline on the stand side really underlining that.

Their willingness to follow orders is one thing but when called upon, they have the hurling nous to make their own decisions too.

It was a point McGrath was keen to emphasise afterwards that it's not all about 'blanket' cover and significantly Waterford did push out more in the second half when facing the breeze.

Swashbuckling

"It's different in terms of the traditional approach of Waterford," said McGrath. "Waterford are known for being off the cuff. When I came on the panel in 1998 there were swashbuckling players renowned for playing hip-to-hip hurling.

"I think it's over-analysed, the game we're trying to play - we have a small enough team and I'd point to the fact that when it breaks down it's frustrating. So there'll be a day when I'll be here with you and it'll be about the game-plan breaking down. I'm acutely aware of that."

The comparisons with some of football's most miserly teams he just won't buy. "I'd be absolutely disgusted because (while) it's not a totally different game, it's not blanket defence or anything like it.

"It's a game-to-game situation. Against Limerick we played deep but we didn't play as defensive as we did today or as against Wexford."

For all their industry and application they showed flashes of creative genius too, a lovely reverse pass from Tom Devine to put Michael 'Brick' Walsh away for the last score and Austin Gleeson's sideline conversion just before the break taking the same flight path as Maurice Fitzgerald's famous kick in Thurles 14 years ago standing out.

Pauric Mahony scored another 10 points to bring his league tally to 1-66 from six games while Maurice Shanahan made a similar impact to what he enjoyed against Wexford, scoring a point, winning a free for Mahony and setting up Devine late on to contribute directly to three of their last five scores.

For Galway there is so much food for thought after an indifferent campaign. They were simply outfought, out-thought and out-hurled. If there were any more relevant verbs with the prefix 'out' then Galway were subjected to that too.

There should be no attempt to gloss over how poor they were here and it prompts questions about their sustainability as a team that can really make an impact on this year's Championship.

For the opening 10 minutes of the second half they pressed hard, with David Collins and Johnny Coen finding form in defence and Cathal Mannion and Joe Canning picking off some decent long range scores. But once Waterford got a foothold again, Galway wilted quickly.

They have now lost four out of their six league games. In four of those six games they have failed to score a goal. Their best chance here fell to Joseph Cooney but his shot was smartly saved by Ian O'Regan in the last quarter when its value would have been purely cosmetic to the scoreline.

Their manager Anthony Cunningham didn't hide his disappointment, suggesting they "didn't want it" in the first half and wondering if they had their eyes on bigger prizes later in the year. If that is the case then they are completely out of sync with where they need to be.

Honest

"We needed to play better in the first half, but just didn't want it enough. That was the big difference. There's no hiding from that," said Cunningham.

"We didn't want that game in the first half, and we have to be very honest in saying that. We showed signs of wanting it in the second half and hurled much better, but not in the first half. So to come down and basically be stuck to the ground is not on.

"We're way better than that. For whatever reason, we weren't up for the battle there today and whether we've our eye on other things down the line, maybe players have," he said with some resignation.

It will be a cause for reflection in the coming weeks with Dublin coming down the line at the end of May.

Man of the Match - J Barron (Waterford)

Scorers - Waterford: Pauric Mahony 0-10 (9fs), K Moran, A Gleeson (1sl), B O'Halloran 0-2 each, M Shanahan, M Walsh, T Devine, J Dillon 0-1 each. Galway: J Canning 0-8 (6fs, 1 65), C Mannion, A Smith 0-2 each.

Waterford - I O'Regan; S Fives 8, B Coughlan 7, N Connors 8; A Gleeson 7, T De Burca 8, Philip Mahony 8; J Barron 8, K Moran 8; M Walsh 6, Pauric Mahony 7, J Dillon 6; B O'Halloran 7, Stephen Bennett 6, C Dunford 7. Subs: M Shanahan 7 for Bennett (47), T Devine 7 for O'Halloran (61), S O'Sullivan for Dunford (64), G O'Brien for Dillon (68), M O'Neill for Pauric Mahony (68).

Galway - C Callanan 7; D Collins 7, P Killeen 6, J Coen 7; J Hanbury 6, P Mannion 6, G McInerney 6; A Smith 7, I Tannian 6; J Cooney 6, J Glynn 6, J Canning 7; J Flynn 5, J Regan 5, C Mannion 7.Subs: G Lally 6 for Killeen (ht), N Healy 5 for Regan (ht), A Harte 5 for Flynn (53).

Ref - Brian Gavin (Offaly).

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