Tuesday 16 July 2019

Jacob stresses need for attacking impetus with Model sweeper

Former Wexford star Rory Jacob. Photo: Sportsfile
Former Wexford star Rory Jacob. Photo: Sportsfile
Michael Verney

Michael Verney

The sweeper system is one of hurling's great debates with pundits falling on different sides of the fence but former Wexford star Rory Jacob believes it is here to stay under Model boss Davy Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald has overseen an upturn in Wexford's fortunes since taking the reins with promotion to Division 1A secured and retained but the fiery Clare native has also copped much criticism along the way.

For many purists, deploying an extra defender to mind the house while playing with five forwards at the other end goes against the grain, but Jacob insists "you play the hand that's dealt you".

Having utilised that style to good effect thus far, Jacob doesn't expect Fitzgerald to deviate away from the norm - attacker Kevin Foley played sweeper against Kilkenny in their Walsh Cup semi-final victory last Sunday - although he expects him to place greater emphasis on their attack.

"From what I've seen so far, it's going to be very much the same. I don't particularly blame Wexford for that and they're quite good at the system The biggest issue with the system is their attacking game and they need to improve it," Jacob said.

"We know pretty well what we're doing defensively, although we have a few limitations at the back, but when we're transitioning the ball to the forwards we get to the 65 and we seem to run out of ideas.

"We're very dependant on our half-backs and our midfielders being our shooters. Our attacking system must evolve because our scoring rate is not high enough to win big games and I'm not sure if we know exactly what we're doing. The sweeper system definitely has its limitations but if you play it the right way it can be very effective, as Waterford showed (in their run to the 2017 All-Ireland final)."

The need for change up front was stressed against the Cats when just four of their 0-16 total came from play and a solitary point scored by their forwards.

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Jacob, who retired from Wexford duty in 2015 after 14 seasons in purple and gold, hopes the "handbrake is taken off" and a more orthodox set-up is adopted when games are in the melting pot.

The 35-year-old craves for more fresh faces to be blooded this spring ahead of a mouth-watering Leinster SHC round-robin as he feels they ran out of bodies when the need was greatest last summer.

"They probably used the same 19 or 20 players the whole way through the league and they were trying to use those same players through the championship too. We've three or four fellas that would maybe make our panel stronger," he said.

"Those lads would have to be blooded in the league or we'll be short come summer time. That caught up with them as the year went on and their energy levels dropped. There's an awful lot of tackling, work-rate in their system.

"The way they play is full-on all the time and if you're not at full tilt, you'll be struggling. It's all about who has the strongest panel now, they are the counties winning All-Irelands, so we'll have to build depth."

Nothing other than a Leinster title or an All-Ireland semi-final appearance will be viewed as progress this year in the view of the Oulart-The Ballagh forward and he believes Rory O'Connor is particularly crucial to this side's fortunes.

The St Martin's star has already been plagued by injury at this early stage of his career, however, and Jacob stresses the need for him come back from his latest lay-off ready to drive the Model forward.

"He has the potential to be an excellent player. He has all the attributes of a modern inter-county player: hugely athletic, able to score and use the ball smartly, he has everything you'd want," Jacob said.

"He's vital for Wexford. He has shown flashes of what he can do so far but he's struggled for consistency because of injury and you'd hope that he can put those knocks behind him because he has the potential to be an absolutely fantastic player and a leader of this team."

Bellefield is the venue once again today (2.0) with Galway the visitors - Micheál Donoghue's men must make a seven-hour round-trip - as Wexford attempt to kick off 2019 in style by retaining their Walsh Cup crown.

Fitzgerald was short on detail last week regarding his tactical approach for the year but cryptically noted that it would be "an interesting year". It's never anything but with him around.

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